This week, with the help of the ACLU and the ACLU of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon filed a legal motion in a federal lawsuit against the Dallas School District. We’re asking for two things: the ability to intervene in the lawsuit and for the dismissal of the case altogether.
Last November, a small group of parents and students, acting through the organizations “Parents for Privacy” and “Parents Rights in Education,” filed a complaint against the Dallas School District and other state and federal officials for the district’s policies protecting transgender students from discrimination.
Unfortunately, the suit is all too familiar – we’ve seen similar attacks on transgender students crop up in school districts across the country in recent years.
This lawsuit is, simply put, mean-spirited and cruel, and we are doing everything we can to fight it. As our board chair, Brook Shelley, said at our press conference, “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.”
According to Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon, the implications of the suit could be devastating to transgender students. If successful, it would force them 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.”
“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 with input from Basic Rights Oregon. And after the Trump administration rescinded federal guidelines protecting transgender students from bullying and harassment, Governor Kate Brown affirmed Oregon’s commitment to keeping the state’s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 these protections, in the past year we’ve seen a disturbing number of reports of transgender children being harassed in Madras, Coos Bay, Medford, Stayton, Grants Pass, and Portland.
When transgender youth face rejection from their peers, the results can be devastating. Two members of our own Fierce Family network, Lon and Christine Staub, lost their teenage daughter Adi last year, when she took her own life.
“Family acceptance can only go so far, particularly in the case of a teenager 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 of 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.”
Those thoughts were echoed by, Colleen Yeager, the parent of a seven-year-old transgender boy, who told us that a 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.”
We will continue to fight this lawsuit and other challenges like it, to ensure that all transgender students throughout the state have a right to a safe, affirming learning environment.