Metro Weekly

Trans students could be outed to their parents after Wisconsin ruling

An injunction against pro-trans guidance could lead to school's having to out students to parents

trans, transgender, student, wisconsin, madison

Photo: Andrew Neel on Unsplash

An injunction served against a Wisconsin school district could force schools to out transgender students to their parents.

Madison Metropolitan School District was sued by conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) on behalf of 14 parents, arguing that the district’s Guidance & Policies to Support Transgender, Non-binary & Gender-Expansive Students was unconstitutional and violated parental rights.

The guidance, implemented in 2018, prohibited staff from discussing “any information that may reveal a student’s gender identity to others, including parents or guardians and other school staff, unless legally required to do so or unless the student has authorized such disclosure.”

It was intended to allow trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive students to embrace their gender identity within school property without fear of being outed, noting they have “the right to discuss and express their gender identity and expression openly and to decide when, with whom, and how much to share private information.”

“If a student chooses to use a different name, to transition at school, or to disclose their gender identity to staff or other students, this does not authorize school staff to disclose a student’s personally identifiable or medical information,” the guidance said.

But in a ruling last month, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Frank Remington issued an injunction against part of the guidance, The Cap Times reports.

Remington’s ruling prevents the district from “applying or enforcing” any parts of the guidance that “allows or requires District staff to conceal information or to answer untruthfully in response to any question that parents ask about their child at school, including information about the name and pronouns being used to address their child at school.”

WILL celebrated the win, with attorney Luke Berg saying it “sends a pretty clear warning to the district that its policy is problematic.” Berg also urged parents to ask their child’s school to out them following the injunction, saying “the school now can’t lie to you.”

“They don’t have to reach out to you and they won’t notify you if your child is dealing with this, but they can’t lie if you ask directly,” Berg told Cap Times. “Parents should just be ever-vigilant and paying attention to what’s going on with their kids as they always should and ask their school if they have concerns.”

Tim LeMonds, spokesman for MMSD, said in a statement that the district would comply with the injunction, but noted that it does not “construe or interpret the guidance to support or encourage MMSD officials to misrepresent or conceal anything from parents, and the Court did not otherwise require MMSD to change its existing approach.”

“MMSD prioritizes working in collaboration with families to support our students and it is always our preferred method of support,” he wrote. “MMSD will continue to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of every individual student to the best of our ability.”

The injunction came as part of an ongoing legal battle between parents and the district, after the lawsuit was initially filed at the start of the year arguing that allowing trans students to express their gender identity openly at school violated the constitutional rights of parents to “direct the upbringing [of] their children.”

“The policy enables children, of any age, to socially transition to a different gender identity at school without parental notice or consent, requires all teachers to enable this transition, and then prohibits teachers from communicating with parents about this potentially life-altering choice without the child’s consent,” the complaint stated.

Three LGBTQ student groups have joined the lawsuit to defend the guidance, with one of the groups, Gender Equity Association at Memorial, telling the Cap Times that it is “just incomprehensible to me that anyone would target these rights and do it with not a care about the students, about kids.”

“This [lawsuit] isn’t for the betterment of others, this is because you are scared that you don’t know what’s going on with your kids and that you’re afraid they’re trans or gender-expansive because you are transphobic,” said Memorial student Amira Pierotti.

Despite suing to stop trans students’ gender identities potentially being withheld by the school district, the parents behind the lawsuit aren’t so keen to have their own names made public.

The injunction against the school’s pro-trans guidance was issued as part of an appeal by WILL, after a previous court decision found that the parents had to disclose their identities to the school district.

In issuing the injunction, Remington noted that the parents were unlikely to prevail, noting that he understood why they “desire to remain anonymous,” but doing so prevents the district from engaging in discovery or properly responding to the lawsuit.

“By remaining anonymous and by asking this court to make evidentiary findings regarding irreparable harm or an adequate remedy unfairly deprives the Defendants a meaningful opportunity to challenge Plaintiffs’ factual assertions,” Remington wrote.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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