Pine-Richland transgender students can use bathroom of choice, federal judge rules

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Pine-Richland transgender students can use bathroom of choice, federal judge rules

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Pine-Richland School District schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity while the district's new restroom policy is challenged in court, a federal judge ruled Monday.

“I am so relieved that I can end my senior year like this,” said Elissa Ridenour, 18, one of three transgender students who sued over the controversial policy. The mandate required transgender students either to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their biological sex, or to use a separate unisex facility.

“It's really taken a weight off my back,” said Ridenour, “but the fight's not over.”

It'll be at least several more months or longer for the lawsuit to reach a resolution.

But the preliminary injunction imposed by U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak ensures Pine-Richland's transgender students may use the bathrooms in line with their gender identities while court proceedings play out.

In his 48-page opinion, Hornak cited equal protection rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

“The plaintiffs appear to the court to be young people seeking to do what young people try to do every day — go to school, obtain an education and interact as equals with their peers,” wrote Hornak.

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs' attorneys claims that the policy could be causing harm to the affected students. He noted that some transgender students had used bathrooms that matched their gender identities for several years before the school board enacted the policy in September.

Because they were suddenly barred from doing so, “it is not a long leap, nor really a leap at all, to give credence to the plaintiffs' assertions that they subjectively feel marginalized, and objectively are being marginalized, which is causing them genuine distress, anxiety, discomfort and humiliation,” wrote Hornak.

Most days since the policy went into effect, transgender students “were just refraining from using the restroom at school at all,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, attorney for the plaintiffs.

Monday's injunction should send a message to “any public school that had any questions as to whether they must permit a transgender student to use the restroom that matches who they are and to treat them with dignity and respect,” said Gonzalez-Pagan of Lambda Legal, a national organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of the LGBT community.

“These are incredibly brave young people who stood up to fight for their rights and the rights of others,” Gonzalez-Pagan said, “and we're glad to see their rights vindicated.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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