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A Minnesota transgender student has won a $218,500 settlement stemming from a lawsuit he filed against his school district alleging that he was discriminated against when school officials barred him from the using bathrooms and locker rooms matching his gender identity.
Matt Woods, formerly a student at Buffalo Community Middle School, and his mother, Helene, sued the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District in 2019 after he was repeatedly isolated from his classmates — over a two-year period from 2015 to 2017 — and required to use a single-stall restroom facility that no other student was required to use, and that was difficult to access between classes due its location.
Woods was also required to use a separate locker room — sometimes locked and equally as inaccessible as the restroom — which ultimately led to his mother choosing to pull him from physical education classes.
In his lawsuit, Woods, now a rising high school senior, alleged that the school district’s policy regarding transgender restroom use violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, as well as Woods’ constitutional rights to education and equal protection, by failing to provide him with a safe and equitable learning environment.
“The Minnesota Constitution, as well as the Minnesota Human Rights Act, are firmly on the side of transgender students,” Jess Braverman, the legal director of the Minnesota-based LGBTQ advocacy group Gender Justice, which represented Woods in his lawsuit, said in a statement.
As part of the settlement, the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District has agreed to create new policies that ensure that transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students have access to restrooms and locker room facilities that align with their gender identity; ensure that transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students can play on sports teams consistent with the gender identity; and ensure that school officials refer to students by their proper names and preferred pronouns.
The settlement comes just months after the Anoka-Hennepin School District agreed to settle a similar lawsuit over transgender students’ right to access gender-affirming facilities for $300,000 and change its policies.
The student in that case, Nick H., recounted how being singled out and forced to use segregated changing facilities led to bullying, harassment, and threats of violence at the hands of his peers, and even led to him being locked inside the segregated locker room. As a result, his grades suffered, he became depressed, and was hospitalized three times for mental health concerns before deciding to transfer out of the district.
Woods, for his part, told ABC affiliate KSTP that his treatment by school officials during his middle school years made him feel depressed and suicidal.
“It’s like two years of my education was stolen from me, and I’m still catching on that,” he said.
“I’m glad there will be new gender-affirming policies put into place so that no one else has to go through what I went through, because people should be able to express their gender identity and go to the bathroom without being tormented by their teachers and school,” Woods said in a statement released by Gender Justice. “Gender-affirming policies will literally save lives.”
In a statement, the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District said it was “committed to continuing to provide a safe and respectful learning environment for all students.”
“The settlement was based on the continuing development of laws related to the issues in this case. The District’s insurer is paying the full amount of the settlement. No public tax dollars are being used to fund any monetary payment, and the District has not admitted to any wrongdoing,” the district said in its statement.
“The District is pleased that its insurer has elected to resolve this matter so that the District can continue to focus on providing a high quality education to all students in a safe and welcoming environment.”
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