PORTLAND, Ore. - The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLU) and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon) today filed legal motions on behalf of Basic Rights Oregon to defend the Dallas School District’s practice of allowing students to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. A motion to intervene in the case and a motion to dismiss were submitted today in the federal lawsuit Parents for Privacy v. Dallas School District No. 2, which seeks to overturn the Dallas School District’s policy.
“We have a moral responsibility to ensure that every student has a fair chance to succeed in school so they can prepare for their future,” said Brook Shelley, board chair at Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s largest nonprofit lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer advocacy group.
A small group of parents and students, acting through the organizations “Parents for Privacy” and “Parents Rights in Education,” filed a complaint last November against the Dallas School District and other state and federal officials for the district’s policy of protecting a transgender student from discrimination when using the locker room.
Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon, said that if the anti-transgender groups prevail, transgender students will be forced to use separate facilities at school, singling them out and isolating them from their peers.
“This lawsuit sends a painful and horrible message to transgender students,” dos Santos said. “We will fight this every step of the way. Transgender students in Oregon should know that there are people who are here to protect their rights.”
The complaint was filed in federal court last November. It is similar to other unsuccessful lawsuits filed around the country that sought to prevent transgender students from using the locker rooms and restrooms that match their gender identity.
“Everyone should be able to use the restroom in peace,” said Gabriel Arkles, senior staff attorney at the ACLU. “The mere presence of a transgender person in the common area of a restroom or locker room violates no one’s rights, and it’s insulting to claim otherwise.”
In Oregon, state laws prohibit discrimination in education and public places based on gender identity. In 2016, the Oregon Department of Education wrote guidelines for Oregon public schools protecting transgender students. After the Trump administration rescinded federal guidelines protecting transgender students from bullying and harassment, Governor Kate Brown affirmed Oregon’s commitment to keeping the state’s education guidelines in place. Despite state protections, Basic Rights Oregon reports that in the last year they have received complaints that transgender children were being harassed in Madras, Echo, Coos Bay, Medford, Stayton, Grants Pass, and Portland.
Lon and Christine Staub, parents of Adi, a transgender teenager who took her life, said not feeling accepted at school weighed very heavily on their daughter.
“Family acceptance can only go so far, particularly in the case of a teenage like Adi who is trying to find her place in the world," said Lon Staub. "The societal response to trans kids can be a matter or life and death for them. We did everything to protect and accept our daughter at home, but when she went to school things were very different.”
Colleen Yeager, parent of a seven-year-old transgender boy, said supportive school environment helped her son flourish.
“I shudder to think of what my son’s life would be like today had he not received, and continues to receive, the kind of support he does from his teachers, school administration, and school community,” Yeager said. “Their support has been instrumental in his ability to be himself, to just be a kid, and to be a productive, attentive student, and classroom contributor.”
Counsel on the motion to intervene and the motion to dismiss include Mat dos Santos and Kelly Simon of the ACLU of Oregon; Gabriel Arkles and Shayna Medley-Warsoff of the ACLU; and Darin M. Sands and Kelsey Benedick of Lane Powell LLP.