Metro Weekly

Trans Students Sue to Block Oklahoma’s “School Facilities Law”

Plaintiffs are asking court to block the law, which they say is discriminatory and denies them equal protection.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt – Photo: Gage Skidmore

Three transgender students in Oklahoma are suing state education officials and the state’s attorney general over a law passed earlier this year that requires transgender youth to use only those restroom and changing facilities that match their assigned sex at birth.

In the lawsuit, filed last week in federal court by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Oklahoma, the students claim that the law, which was signed into effect by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt in May, violates their right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution, and discriminates against them on the basis of sex, gender identity, and transgender status, in violation of Title VII of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Under the provisions of the School Facilities Law, all students in public and public charter schools in grades pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade are barred from using multiple-occupancy restrooms and changing rooms that match their gender identity.

Transgender and nonbinary students who request special accommodations may be offered use of a single-stall bathroom, although, in practice, such facilities may not be as easily accessible as schools claim

The law also requires school boards to create policies disciplining students who violate the law, and the Oklahoma State Department of Education is empowered to reduce the level of funding that noncompliant school districts receive by 5 percent.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs claim their clients will be “irreparably harmed” by the School Facilities Law, and are asking a federal judge to issue an injunction blocking state and local officials from enforcing it. 

“Oklahoma has launched another cruel and unconstitutional attack on a most-vulnerable population – transgender school children,” Nicholas Guillory, a staff attorney and Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow with Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “This is not the first such attack on transgender schoolchildren, and sadly it will likely not be the last.

“It is sad that anti-transgender state legislators nationwide keep singling out transgender students for harmful, discriminatory treatment, notwithstanding that we and our allies have successfully quashed these efforts wherever they have popped up.”

“Transgender students live and go to school in our state. They use public facilities just like everyone else, and their presence harms no one,” Hanna Roberts, an attorney with the ACLU of Oklahoma, said in a statement. “But this election year has been overrun with attacks on our youth and their ability to feel safe while receiving an inclusive education…. With this case, we hope to make clear that trans students belong.”

Two of the plaintiffs — one a high school student, and the other a middle school student — have filed anonymously. The third plaintiff is Andy Bridge, a 16-year-old senior at Noble High School in Norman, Oklahoma, who claims that he was previously allowed to use boys’ restrooms at his school, without incident, during the last school calendar year. Under the new law, he will be disciplined if he elects to use any facilities designated for male students.

“I am a boy, and while living authentically hasn’t always been easy, it’s given me a sense of relief and happiness,” Bridge said in a statement. “Being able to use the boys’ restroom might seem like a small thing to others, but it is a vital step in my transition. Being barred from using it leaves me singled out and excluded from the rest of my friends and classmates, but also feeling like I’m being told that I’m not worthy of the same respect and dignity as everyone else.”

The lawsuit names the Oklahoma State Department of Education, four Oklahoma school districts, and Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister — who is the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor — as plaintiffs. It also names Republican Attorney General John O’Connor, who previously pledged to defend the law against any legal challenges, as a defendant in the case.

O’Connor’s office told The Hill that it could not comment on the lawsuit at this time.

A similar law in Alabama prohibiting transgender students from using gender-affirming facilities went into effect in May. But courts have overturned bathroom restrictions in other jurisdictions.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled twice in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender male who sued after being barred from the boys’ restroom at his Virginia school.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling in favor of another transgender boy in Wisconsin, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is currently reviewing an earlier ruling issued by two of the circuit’s judges in favor of a Florida transgender boy who sued over access to male-designated facilities.

Other laws restricting public restroom use by transgender individuals outside of school environments have been blocked by courts in North Carolina — which infamously suffered economic consequences following boycotts protesting the state’s so-called “bathroom bill” in 2016 — and Tennessee, where lawmakers have attempted to force business owners to engage in compelled speech endorsing anti-transgender views by posting a sign “warning” customers if the establishment has a policy allowing transgender people to use facilities matching their gender identity.

“There is no valid reason to prohibit transgender students from using the same facilities as their peers. Doing so is stigmatizing and damaging. It interferes with their ability to learn at school and can lead to physical harms as well,” John Davidson, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement.

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