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Religious Tolerance logo

2016-2017: Wisconsin:

Transgender student, Ash Whitaker,
experiences problems in high school
:

Photograph of Ash Whitaker

Ash Whitaker, 16.

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2016-Spring: Milwaukee:

Ash Whitaker lives in Kenosha, at the extreme south-west of Wisconsin, at the shoreline of Lake Michigan. His birth certificate indicates that he was identified as a female at birth. Approaching adulthood, he now identifies as male.

During the spring of 2016, he attempted to be elected prom king by his fellow students at Kenosha Tremper High School. At first, the Kenosha school district refused him permission, saying that he would have to run for prom queen instead because his biological sex is female. However, his fellow students rallied around him. One protestor, Sister Angel, said:

"I don't understand why it's so hard for them to allow a student who's being himself not to be able to run for prom king or to use the boys bathroom." 1

Demonstrators held signs such as:

  • "Bathroom bills are a Trojan Horse for hate."

  • Tremper Alum. for Trans Equality."

Another protestor, Guadalupe Paredes, said:

"If it's a safety issue then OK, but he identifies himself as a boy so he should be allowed to use the boys' bathroom regardless."

The school district finally allowed him to run as prom king.

However, because he was recorded as a girl on his birth certificate, he was not allowed to use the male restrooms. He was given the choice of using either a female restroom or a private single-occupancy restroom in the school's main office.

Kacey Moen read the article on Fox6Now, and posted the following comment directed at the editor(s) of the Fox web site:

"I’m actually surprised the article’s using the correct pronouns in the article. It’s kinda cool that you guys are finally joining the majority of Americans who don’t believe in spreading hatred, lies and fear, like your [other] commenters appear to be. At least they’re a dying breed." 1

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2016-JUL-19: A federal lawsuit is filed on behalf of Ashton Whitaker:

The Transgender Law Center and the civil rights law firm Relman, Dane and Colfax PLLC filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee. It is: Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District. The lawsuit states that the School District does not allow Ash to use the boys' washrooms. Teachers do not call him by the name that he now uses, but use the female name given to him at birth. Also he is allegedly required to wear a green wristband so that staff can easily identify him and monitor his bathroom usage.

Rock Pledl, his attorney said:

"Transgender youth are struggling with the issue of their identity, but if they're not received well by people around them, then they can have additional psychological problems and so this has been very stressful for him. ... the administration has just continued to harass him over and over and raising the stakes when you'd think it'd be the opposite. You'd think they'd be looking for a way to make his life at that high school more pleasant." 2

Tanya Ruder, the Kenosha Unified School District Chief Communications Officer issued a statement saying:

"Kenosha Unified was recently made aware of the lawsuit filed against the District alleging discrimination against a transgender student. The District and its legal counsel are reviewing the complaint and all of the allegations asserted in the complaint. Even a cursory review of the complaint shows that some of the factual allegations are patently false. The District does not have a practice or policy requiring any student to wear a wristband for monitoring any purpose or for any reason whatsoever. The District has worked diligently with transgender students and their families to address their unique needs and accommodations, including the family named in the suit." 2

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2016-SEP-20: Ashton wins his case in federal District Court:

U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin issued her ruling. She issued a temporary injunction ordering that the School District must allow transgender students to use washrooms that are consistent with their gender identity.

She wrote:

"There's no question that Ash has already suffered harm and has had physical repercussions from the [School Board's] policy as well as emotional repercussions."

One of the lawyers representing Whitaker said:

"I'm very excited to call Ash to tell him what the judge decided. The case is certainly not over, but we're happy she recognized that his harm is real."

The Kenosha Unified School District appealed her decision. They took the position that the harm to other students -- particularly the male students who might be using the bathroom at the same time as Ashton Whitaker -- outweighs any inconvenience to him.

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2017-MAY-30: Ashton, now 17 and a High School senior, wins the appeal:

A randomly seleccted three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the school's position. They held that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The latter was used by the U.S. Supreme Court in previous years to legalize interracial marriage in 1967 and same-sex marriage in 2015. Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote the ruling for the panel. She said:

"The School District has failed to provide any evidence of how the preliminary injunction will harm it, or any of its students or parents, ... whereas the harms to Ash are well-documented and supported by the record."

Court documents showed that:

"Ash experienced feelings of anxiousness and depression. He once more began to contemplate suicide." 5

The Trevor Project is a non-profit group that has two main missions: crisis intervention, and the reduction in the number of suicides by LGBTQ youth. In an undated posting on their web site made circa 2016-MAY, they commended the Obama Administration for their letter affirming protections for transgender students under Title IX. That is the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities. Their guidance on Title IX directed:

"... all public schools nationwide to allow transgender students to use bathrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities matching their gender identity. At a time when 50% of transgender youth have thought about suicide and 25% ... have made a suicide attempt, this guidance shows how Title IX, the anti-discrimination law in education, should protect transgender youth in school systems and ensure an environment free from harassment and discrimination.  As the only national accredited suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, The Trevor Project hears from transgender students who are constantly facing violence and harassment, fighting to justify their authentic selves to their parents, classmates, teachers, and the public at large. With this guidance, transgender students will now be able to use facilities that match their gender identities, protected from harassment, [and] addressed by the [personal] pronouns with which they identify." 3

This ruling of the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals is the first decision by a federal appeals court that upheld the Obama Administration's interpretation of Title IX.

Ash commented on the emotional roller coaster he experienced in connection with his problems at school. He said:

"I was really distraught about it. Then there would be times when we had our first success at initial court rulings in [2016-] September that was such a beacon of hope. ... "It was really disheartening fighting against the entire school district that basically tells you to not exist. I'm just very excited for my future now. This is an opportunity to keep moving forward." 4

The Transgender Law Center included a copy on its web site of the 35 page decision by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 5

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Significance of the ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals:

Changes in laws and court decisions can have a major effect throughout the country. For example, the mid-2015 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court which legalized gay marriage has caused a significant drop in suicides among the LGBT community. This is presumably because the latter sense an increasing acceptance of minority sexual orientations within the country.

If the School District takes no further action, then the ruling by the three-judge panel is effective in all public school districts throughout Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. It may be used as a precedent by other courts in the future.

Of the three judges on the panel, two were appointed by President Clinton (D) and one by President G.H.W. Bush (R). Their decision in this case was unanimous. The School District may elect to appeal the case to the full court of 11 judges. An appeal would appear to have a reasonable chance of being upheld.

The losing side in that appeal may elect to take the case further, to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the High Court upheld the Circuit Court's ruling, then it would take effect across the U.S. mainland and all or most U.S. territories.

There are on the order of 4 million births each year in the U.S. Of these, on the order of 0.6% or 24,000 will develop a transgender identity during their late teen years which will last for the rest of their adult lives. If the current unwelcoming culture within families, in the school systems, and in the country generally were to continue, then of these individuals, about 25% or 6,000 will attempt suicide. Many of these will die. A welcoming culture would probably save thousands of lives a year. The stakes are high.

On the other hand, many religious and social conservatives believe that transgender individuals are merely "gender confused." Many feel that to accept a person's transgender identity would support their confusion and lessen the chances of them seeking counselling. This would reduce the chances of them accepting their biological genetic, and perhaps keep the suicides at their current high level.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today. 1

  1. Rachelle Baillon, "Fight for equality: Transgender Kenosha student allowed to run for prom king following outrage," Fox6Now, 2016-APR-08, at: http://fox6now.com/
  2. Rachelle Baillon & AP Wire Service, "Transgender student files federal lawsuit against Wisconsin school district," Fox6Now, 2017-JUL-20, at: http://fox6now.com/
  3. "Obama Administration Issues Guidance Protecting Transgender Students Nationwide," The Trevor Project, undated, at: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/
  4. "Transgender student at Kenosha high school wins appeal, can use boys’ bathroom," Fox6Now, 2017-MAY-30, at: http://fox6now.com/
  5. "Groundbreaking 7th Circuit Ruling in Favor of Ash Whitaker, Transgender Student Seeking Access to Correct Bathroom," Transgender Law Center, at: https://transgenderlawcenter.org/

How you may have arrived here:

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Home > Morality and ethics > Transsexuality > here

Copyright © 2017 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally written on: 2017-MAY-31
Latest update: 2017-JUN-01
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