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Lawsuit claims Martinsville school district discriminated against transgender student

Posted at 3:30 PM, Dec 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 15:43:05-05

MARTINSVILLE — The family of a transgender student in Martinsville is suing the school district and his school’s principal because officials refuse to acknowledge his gender identity, according to the complaint.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and Indiana Legal Services filed the lawsuit Friday on behalf of the middle school student and his mother in the Southern District of Indiana.

The complaint alleges the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville’s refusal to let the student use the boys’ restroom, participate on the boys soccer team and address him by male pronouns represents unlawful discrimination of sex in violation of Title IX.

It also says the principal of John R. Wooden Middle School violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by not allowing the student to use the boys’ restrooms, not requiring that he be referred to as a male, not using pronouns consistent with his gender identity and not allowing him to participate on the boys’ soccer team.

Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of students in similar cases, including one involving a transgender high school student in Evansville.

“The overarching point is that it's improper and ultimately very cruel to treat someone who is transgender in a way that is not consistent with their gender identity,” Falk said. “We're looking to have the young man treated like a young man with everything that goes with that.”

WRTV contacted the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville for comment, but we have not received a response.

The lawsuit says the boy previously was diagnosed with gender dysmorphia. He filed a request in state court to change his name and have the gender marker on his birth certificate changed from female to male.

According to the complaint, the student “has known himself to be a boy for several years.” His family has treated him as a boy since he was in elementary school in Anderson where school staff “referred to him by his first name and referred to him by male pronouns.”

The boy and his family moved to Martinsville when he was in fifth grade. The complaint alleges school staff referred to him by female pronouns despite his request, although some students called him by his male first name and used his preferred male pronouns.

The lawsuit says he was uncomfortable using girls’ restrooms. When he asked if he could use the boys’ restroom, school staff told him he needed to either use the girls’ restrooms or a single-person restroom in the school’s health clinic.

“Using the health clinic restroom was disquieting to him as it made him feel different than the other students and increased the anxiety he was feeling between his sex assigned at birth and his gender,” the complaint says.

Using the health clinic restroom also made him late for class due to its distance from his classes. The complaint adds he feels singled out and not accepted for who he is.

The boy’s mother and representatives with Gender Nexus, an organization for transgender and nonbinary people, requested a meeting with the principal of John R. Wooden Middle School this fall. However, only a school counselor attended the meeting, according to the complaint.

The counselor said he would have to check with the “higher ups” and would get back to the student and his mother when they discussed allowing him to use the boys’ bathroom and participate on the boys soccer team.

The complaint says the counselor left a voicemail with the student’s mother informing her the school principal said her son would have to continue using the health clinic restroom and would receive extra time.

The counselor added the school would allow the student to be educated online at home and that the school needed to follow Indiana High School Athletic Association rules about athletic participation.

The counselor did not say if the school would require staff to refer to him by male pronouns. The boy and his mother “understood that to mean that no such requirement would be issued by the school,” the complaint says.

In the days following the meeting, the student used the boys’ restrooms at school. On Nov. 22, a teacher sent him to the front office and administrative staff told him he should not use the boys’ restroom and threatened punishment.

The boy's stepfather spoke with administrators, who the complaint alleges repeatedly misgendered the boy and referred to him as a girl.

According to the complaint, the school’s principal told the student on Nov. 29 that he could not use the boys’ restroom and that “other parents and the community had a voice in what restrooms (the student) used.”