An agreement has been reached in the
case of a transgender student who was seeking access to the bathroom
of his choice at his Wisconsin high school.
Ashton Whitaker, who has since
graduated high school, sued Kenosha Unified School District over its
policy of restricting transgender students to using separate
bathrooms from their peers. A lower court in September, 2016 ordered
the school district to stop enforcing the policy. The school
district turned to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which
also sided with Whitaker.
A three-judge panel said that Title IX
of the Education Amendment of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in
public schools, applies in the case, marking the first time that a
federal appellate court took such a stance.
“A policy that requires an individual
to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender
identity punishes that individual for his or her gender
non-conformance, which in turn violates Title IX,” wrote Circuit
Judge Ann Claire Williams in a 35-page ruling. “Providing a
gender-neutral alternative is not sufficient to relieve the School
District from liability, as it is the policy itself which violates
The school district appealed the ruling
to the U.S. Supreme Court. But as a condition of the settlement
announced this week, which remains subject to court approval, the
school district agreed to withdraw its petition before the high
If the settlement is approved by the
court, it means that in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, the three
states the appeals court covers, public schools must allow
transgender students access to restrooms consistent with their gender
identity. It also means that the Supreme Court will not get to weigh
in on the issue.
Whitaker said in a statement that he's
“deeply relieved” by the settlement.
“Winning this case was so empowering
and made me feel like I can actually do something to help other trans
youth live authentically,” Whitaker said. “My message to other
trans kids is to respect themselves and accept themselves and love
themselves. If someone’s telling you that you don’t deserve that,
prove them wrong.”
Whitaker was represented by the San
Francisco-based Transgender Law Center.
"KUSD’s discriminatory actions
included banning Ash from using boys’ restrooms, invasively
monitoring his restroom use, referring to him by female pronouns in
front of other students, initially denying him the right to run for
junior prom king, and forcing him to room by himself during a
week-long orchestra camp,” the Transgender Law Center said in a
statement. “To avoid punishment, Ash tried to avoid using the
bathroom at school altogether, and suffered serious depression,
anxiety, and other physical and educational harms as a result of the
discrimination he faced."
As part of the settlement, the school
district must pay $800,000 to Whitaker and reasonable attorneys'
“This settlement sends a clear
message that schools are responsible for treating transgender
students fairly and equally, without exception,” Masen Davis, CEO
of the LGBT group Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement.