Transgender students seek suspension of school restroom rule
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PITTSBURGH — Attorneys for three transgender students want a federal judge to force a Pennsylvania school district to let the students use restrooms corresponding to their stated gender identities until a lawsuit over the issue is heard by the court or settled.
U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak didn't say when he would rule after hearing arguments Thursday on behalf of the transgender students and the Pine-Richland School District, north of Pittsburgh.
Hornak heard arguments on whether to impose an injunction that would suspend the current rules, which make students use restrooms corresponding to their anatomical or biological sex, and on the district's claim that the underlying lawsuit should be dismissed.
The case is being closely watched because no federal judge in the western district of Pennsylvania has ruled on the key questions nor has the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Pennsylvania, or the U.S. Supreme Court.
Perhaps the most fundamental issue for Hornak to consider is whether the plaintiffs' sexual identities are what they say they are.
"Juliet and Elissa are girls, and A.S. is a boy," argued Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, referring to the three seniors. He works for the Lambda Legal
The students, two born anatomically male who now identify as female and one born anatomically female who identifies as male, sued in October. The parties agree the district let students use restrooms based on their stated gender identities for months or years until the school board changed the practice in September, while it researches adopting a formal, permanent policy.
Under the current rules, all students must use restrooms that correspond to their anatomical or biological sex, or unisex restrooms. The rules now in effect were adopted after at least one parent complained on behalf of students who are uncomfortable sharing restrooms with students who have different genitalia.
The district has argued the federal Title IX statute, which bans sex discrimination in educational settings, defines gender in binary, biological terms only — that is, male and female. The district contends the restroom rules are not illegally discriminatory because Title IX allows for separate facilities for men and women, and doesn't name transgender people as a protected class.
The plaintiffs contend the restroom rules violate the federal law because they contend their clients are, in fact, two females and one male, despite their anatomy and are being forced to use opposite sex restrooms
Effectively, the policy amounts to the district telling two of the plaintiffs, "You may say you're a girl, but you're not," said Christopher Clark, another Lambda attorney. The plaintiffs also argue the restroom rules violate the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law.
Christina Lane, an attorney for the district, argued "equal protection allows for, permits, the differences of biology that we see here." She said, "The key question before you is what does 'sex' mean under Title IX."
Attorneys for both sides acknowledge the district treats the students according to their gender identities in other respects, including referring to them by the pronoun each prefers. Juliet Evancho, the lead plaintiff, was even elected a princess in the school's homecoming court.
The students' attorneys contend that proves that the district is trying to single out the students over the restroom policy. The district's attorneys, conversely argued they're trying to treat the transgender students with respect, while still acknowledging the practical considerations of having people with different anatomies share public restrooms.