Metro Weekly

Federal Judge Blocks Idaho’s Trans Restroom Ban

Judge allows status quo -- with no restroom ban -- to remain in place as students prepare to return to school later this month.

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

A federal judge has temporarily blocked an Idaho law requiring public school students to only use restrooms and locker rooms that match their assigned sex at birth. 

The family of a transgender middle school girl and a pro-LGBTQ student group sued to block the law, arguing that it amounted to discrimination against transgender individuals and may be unconstitutional. The plaintiffs also requested an injunction to block state officials and school administrators from enforcing the law.

U.S. District Judge David Nye, of the District of Idaho, issued a temporary restraining order that effectively preserves the status quo until he could rule on the merits of the lawsuit. That means that the ban will not be enforced against transgender students who wish to use gender-affirming restrooms when students return to school later this month.

Nye noted that there is already a “split in the circuits,” in which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found that restrictions on transgender students’ restroom use discriminate based on sex and sexual orientation, while the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has found that school districts are within their right to demand sex-segregated restrooms based on students’ assigned sex at birth. 

“Candidly, against this divided backdrop, the Court does not know if Plaintiffs will be able to show success on the merits or not at the upcoming hearing,” Nye wrote. “The Court does find, however, that preserving the status quo pending a more complete review is the most fitting approach at the current juncture.”

The student at the center of the case, using the pseudonym Rebecca Roe, and her parents, as well as the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, have claimed that the ban discriminated on the basis of gender identity and violates transgender students’ right to privacy. 

Idaho’s law is similar to laws in at least eight other states that have passed laws in recent years barring transgender students from using school facilities matching their gender identity — although it does not go as far as laws in North Dakota and Florida that go beyond schools to prohibit transgender people from accessing gender-affirming restrooms in some or all government buildings

However, Idaho’s law does contain what critics have called a “bounty” — in which cisgender students and their parents may sue schools for up to $5,000 if they find a transgender student using facilities that do not match that student’s assigned sex at birth. As a result, the plaintiffs have claimed, the law encourages people to seek out and harass transgender students in the hope of finding them violating the law in exchange for a monetary award.

Under the now-blocked law, schools would have been required to provide a “reasonable accommodation” for transgender students unwilling or unable to use restrooms matching their assigned sex at birth. But the plaintiffs in the case have argued that those accommodations are “often inferior to the facilities used by others, located in less accessible locations, and stigmatizing for them to use,” reports NBC News.

A similar situation occurred in the case of Virginia transgender student Gavin Grimm, who was forced to use a toilet in a modified broom closet after his local school district barred him from using the boys’ restroom. 

The office of Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador has not commented publicly on the ruling, although it is expected to appeal the injunction, in the hope of having the law take effect while the court challenge continues.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs praised the injunction as a small victory for their clients.

“The court’s ruling will be a relief for transgender students in Idaho, who are entitled to basic dignity, safety, and respect at school,” Peter Renn, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “When school is back in session, they should be focusing on classes, friends, and activities like everyone else, rather than worrying about where they are allowed to use the restroom. No one’s return to school should be met with a return to discrimination.”

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!