Metro Weekly

A trans teen was threatened by a group of boys in the bathroom. He’s the one who could be punished.

School officials say a new Tennessee law that makes them liable if they allow trans students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

A bathroom stall – Photo: Tom Rogerson, via Unsplash.

A Tennessee mother says she’s worried for the safety of her transgender son after he was harassed and threatened by a group of boys while using the boys’ bathroom. But it’s her son who could potentially face punishment as schools attempt to comply with a recently passed law governing transgender bathroom use.

Sherri Yandle, of Murfreesboro, claims her son, Tobi, a 16-year-old junior at Siegel High School, was given permission by the school to use single-stall faculty bathrooms. But when he found them locked, with no other alternatives, he decided to use the boys’ bathroom. Video footage from school security cameras backs up Tobi’s story that he only resorted to the boys’ bathroom after finding the faculty bathrooms locked.

“He ducked into the boys room and went into the first stall he saw available,” Yandle told CBS affiliate WTVF. “Then he said some boys started chanting transphobic slurs, and then it go louder and louder… They started hitting and kicking at the stall door, so Tobi had to use his back to brace it and then put his foot on the toilet to keep the door shut.”

Tobi texted a friend for help during the attack. Eventually, an assistant principal — later identified by news outlets as Lorie Gober — intervened to stop the abuse.

“When finally somebody came in to clear out the bathroom, the assistant principal found Tobi in the bathroom stall, crying, scared to death,” Yandle told the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. “I think the scenario going through Tobi’s head was they were going to physically harm him.”

Yandle says the assistant principal who intervened to protect Tobi did not immediately punish those involved, later telling Yandle that a new Tennessee law empowers the students who attacked her son to sue the school if they object to his presence in boys’ facilities.

“She stated because of Governor Lee’s laws that the other students could sue the school if they didn’t like it that a transgender child [was] in the bathroom,” Yandle said. “I’d like to see these boys held accountable for what they did to my son, regardless of the reason.”

Under the law, signed into effect by Gov. Bill Lee (R) earlier this year, schools can be sued by cisgender students or their parents for “psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered” if they become upset at seeing a transgender person using a multi-person bathroom or locker room that does not match their assigned sex at birth.

That law is currently being challenged by the Human Rights Campaign, which filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of two transgender students earlier this month seeking to block the law from being enforced and declare the law discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Yandle later contacted the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, which began an investigation into the harassment complaint.

See also: Philadelphia Public Schools to install gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms in each of its schools

James Evans, a spokesperson for Rutherford County Schools, said in a joint statement with the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office that the school district will investigate any allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination under Title IX, the act prohibiting sex-based discrimination in educational institutions.

“Although the school district has not been contacted directly by this parent, an assistant principal at the school has spoken with the student and the student’s mother concerning an alleged incident in the bathroom, although there are some variances in the story,” the statement reads.

“Rutherford County Schools does have a policy in place that allows students or employees to use private, single stall bathrooms if needed and requested. The state of Tennessee also has enacted a new law concerning transgender students and bathroom use, and the school district is required to follow this law.”

It remains unclear whether any of the students involved in the attack will face criminal charges or discipline from school administrators.

Thus far, no disciplinary action has been taken against Tobi, either. But some critics of the new law fear it will give administrators significant leeway to punish transgender students in order to placate those with anti-LGBTQ views and avoid a costly lawsuit.

“I don’t understand why my son would be punished when he’s the victim of what to me is a hate crime,” Yandle said. “[The school is] not supposed to let any child be bullied, and all children are supposed to be safe when they go to school and in that instance, I feel like this school failed.”

See also:

Transgender prisoner sues Virginia Department of Corrections over denial of surgery

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!