Transgender teen sues Minnesota district over locker room access

Feb. 26, 2019
Student on swim team at Coon Rapids High School in the Anoka-Hennepin district was told he couldn't use the boys locker room.

A transgender teen is suing a Minnesota district for barring him from the boys locker room at his high school.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the teen, identified only as N.H., used the locker room at Coon Rapids High School in Coon Rapids, Minn., while participating on the boys swim team as a freshman in 2015-16.

But near the end of the season, he was told he’d have to start changing clothes in a facility no other student used, according to the suit filed in Anoka County District Court

The suit says his teammates and swim coach supported him. School staff used his preferred name and pronouns, and the coach worked with him to decide what kind of swimsuit he’d wear.

But then the Anoka-Hennepin School Board stepped in to stop him from using the boys locker room. Although the board soon reversed itself, the initial act of removing N.H. from class to tell him caused “emotional distress,” according to the suit.

“Transgender students themselves are the best judge of where they will be safe,” says Christy Hall, an attorney with Gender Justice, which is working on the case along with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although he was barred from the locker room, no one questioned N.H.’s use of boys restrooms at the school.

That summer, the high school remodeled the boys locker room and created a new “enhanced privacy” restroom and changing facility with its own entrance, toilet and shower.

District officials instructed N.H. to use the new facilities for gym class. When he instead joined his friends in the boys locker room, he was told he could be disciplined.

The teen reluctantly began to use the separate facilities, but subsequently transferred to a different school district to “escape (the) discriminatory treatment.”

The Anoka-Hennepin district’s practice has been to make decisions about transgender students and facilities use on a case-by-case basis.

“The goal is to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable. Plans for accommodation for restroom and locker room use are made in consultation with school building administrators, the Title IX Coordinator and Superintendent,” school board chair Tom Heidemann wrote in a March 2017 letter to the teen’s mother.

Anoka-Hennepin echoed that position in a written statement Monday. It says its case-by-case handling of restroom and locker room accommodations is consistent with guidance from the state and national school boards associations.

“Anoka-Hennepin is confident our actions conform with state and federal law,” the district says.

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