Metro Weekly

Minnesota mother sues school district for discriminating against her transgender son

Helene Woods takes issue with school officials' decision to bar her son from the boys' restroom and locker room

Photo: W.carter, via Wikimedia.

A Minnesota mother is suing her local public school district for discriminating against her transgender son when he was in middle school.

The lawsuit was filed in Wright County District Court by Helene Woods on behalf of her son, Matt, whom she alleges was repeatedly isolated from his classmates, barred from using the restroom matching his gender identity, and removed from physical education class because he was transgender.

According to the lawsuit, Matt was 11 years old and in the sixth grade in September 2015, when he transitioned. Although Woods notified the district of her son’s transition, school officials refused to allow him to access the boys’ restroom or locker room at Buffalo Community Middle School.

Instead, he was forced to use a single-occupancy bathroom in the nurse’s office, which was located in a section of the school that was not easy for him to access in between classes.

As a result of being barred from the boys’ restroom and locker room, Matt felt embarrassed and stigmatized, and his mental health began to suffer as he struggled with stress and anxiety.

He was hospitalized in December 2015. When he returned to school in February, he asked to use male-designated facilities, but the principal rejected his request, saying it would be unsafe with him.

The following school year, he again requested to use boys’ facilities, and the school rejected his request once more. School officials offered to let him use a single-stall restroom reserved for teachers, but the door to the restroom was often locked, or, at other times, Matt was blocked from using it by teachers serving as hall monitors who were unfamiliar with the arrangement.

As a result, he often didn’t use the bathroom during the school day and waited to use the bathroom at a nearby store or at his home, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Matt was also barred from communal locker rooms, and forced to use a bathroom that had to be unlocked for him at the start of each class. The bathroom lacked both a shower and a locker, meaning he had to carry his belongings back and forth between his regular locker. Eventually, the school removed him from gym class.

As a result, his grades began to slip, he stopped doing his homework, and he eventually began skipping school. By midyear, he was hospitalized again for mental health treatment. When it was time to return to school, his mother enrolled him in a private Minneapolis school that is more than an hour away.

Although Matt was initially bullied upon arriving at the private school, administrators addressed the bullying and it stopped. They also allowed him to use facilities matching his gender identity.

“I prefer to use boy facilities because I’m a boy,” Matt Woods told the Star-Tribune in an interview. “I don’t want to be treated any different than other students.”

He said feels accepted for who he is at his current high school, and wants other transgender kids to feel know they can be as well.

“They can have the courage to come out and if they do have problems, adults will be there for them,” Woods said. “They’ll feel more accepted and more accepted and bullying won’t happen.”

Helene Woods says she’s disappointed she has to pursue legal action against the school district, but stands by her decision to do so.

“We need to understand that transgender kids are just kids,” she said. “Denying them access to the facilities that meet their gender identity especially in the elementary and middle school age is causing serious harm to these kids.”

The Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District released a statement denying Woods’ allegations of discrimination. 

“The District respects the rights of all students and plans to vigorously defend against the lawsuit,” said Superintendent Scott Thielman.

Read more:

Photographer who opposes gay marriage sues to overturn Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance

New York man thrown onto subway tracks in anti-gay attack

Young Americans oppose restrictions on bathroom use for transgender people

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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