Federal Court Rejects Challenge to Trans-Inclusive Restroom Policy at Ohio School District

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
August 7, 2023 12:03 pm

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Today a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio issued a judgment on the pleadings in a lawsuit challenging Bethel Local School District’s decision to allow transgender students to use communal restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The case was initially brought by a group of parents and students seeking an order requiring the school district to prohibit transgender students from using the communal restrooms matching their gender. In January 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Ohio intervened on behalf of a transgender student. Judge Newman dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ federal claims, effectively terminating the case.

“Today’s ruling reaffirms that the Constitution is not a vehicle to compel discrimination. Nothing in the constitutional guarantees of parenting rights, equal protection, or free exercise of religion mandates that transgender students be excluded from gender-appropriate communal restrooms on the basis of their classmates’ beliefs and values,” noted David Carey, Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU of Ohio. “For public schools to function, one student’s or family’s religious beliefs cannot provide a basis to exclude another student from full participation in the school environment.”

Today’s ruling is an amazing victory for our client, all transgender students like her, and all Bethel Area students who deserve a safe and affirming learning environment,” said Malita Picasso, Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “The court was resoundingly clear that the rights of transgender students like Anne are not in conflict with the rights of her peers, the rights of parents, or the responsibility of the school to ensure the safety of all their students. No student should have to fear discriminatory treatment every morning they walk into school, and this ruling brings us closer to the day no transgender student has to.”

“Today’s ruling reignites hope in the classic sentiment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,’” said Dave Hopkins, Associate Attorney for the Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP. “We have a long way to go, and our arc is far from finished. But in a time where justice and fairness are far from guaranteed, it is quite comforting to see a commitment to equity and the rule of law carry the day.”

In their motion for judgment on the pleadings, the ACLU argued that several of the plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed, and the Judge ruled in their favor, finding that:

  1. The plaintiffs lacked standing for their Title IX Claim;
  2. The plaintiffs’ fundamental parenting rights did not require the school to accede to the plaintiff parents’ demands;
  3. Allowing equal restroom access to transgender students did not violate the plaintiff’s right to equal protection of law;
  4. The school district’s actions did not infringe on the plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion.

Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled transgender students must have access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities in a challenge brought by the ACLU of Indiana against a school district policy requiring transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity.

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