State of Minnesota intervenes in transgender suit against Anoka-Hennepin district

March 26, 2019
Student at Coon Rapids High was denied access to boys' locker room and told he had to dress in an area no other student used.

The state of Minnesota is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit on behalf of a transgender student who has sued the Anoka-Hennepin School District over access to a high school boys' locker room.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights contends in court filings that the district is violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act by discriminating against a transgender student identified only as N.H. The district, the largest in the state, has been accused of unlawfully segregating the student from his classmates by relegating him to a separate changing space, based solely on his gender identity.

N.H. joined the boys’ swim team at Coon Rapids High School in Coon Rapids, Minn., for the 2015-2016 school year and used the boys’ locker room without issue.

But in summer 2016, the district built an “enhanced privacy” boys’ locker room at the school, which was separate from the main boys’ locker room. In 2017, the district and school board required N.H. to use the “enhanced privacy” boys’ locker room, contrary to anti-discrimination provisions in the Minnesota Human Rights Act and N.H.’s wishes. In fact, the district even threatened to discipline N.H. if he did not use the segregated locker room.

“We filed to join this lawsuit because equal access to public schools for all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students, is a civil right protected by the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” says Minnesota Human Rights Deputy Commissioner Irina Vaynerman. “School districts should have policies and procedures that enable all students to thrive, free from discrimination.”

Anoka-Hennepin’s decision to ban N.H. from using the main boys’ locker room because he is transgender was unlawful and resulted in a hostile education environment that stigmatized N.H. and other transgender students. According to the Minnesota Department of Education’s 2016 Student Survey, 31 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming students in 9th and 11th grades reported elevated levels of bullying and harassment.

Over the past several years, students have filed multiple claims of discrimination against the Anoka-Hennepin School District because of the students' actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender expression. In 2011, after reports of harassment and following the suicide of four LGBTQ students, a lawsuit was filed against the school district. It asserted the district perpetuated a harmful and toxic environment for LGBTQ students.

In 2012, the district was subject to a consent decree with the United States Department of Justice requiring them to take steps to eliminate and prevent further instances of discrimination against LGBTQ students.

“We will continue to be persistent and insistent that discrimination against any member of the transgender community is not tolerated in this State,” says Vaynerman.

N.H. and his mother filed the lawsuit last month. 

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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