An eight-year-old transgender girl in Tennessee and her parents have filed legal action over legislation which bans trans students from using school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
An eight-year-old transgender girl and her parents, with the help of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in the world, are suing the Williamson County Board of Education and the Tennessee Department of Education over the state’s Accommodations for All Children Act.
The law bans trans students from using school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, as well as locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities.
On Thursday (August 4), HRC filed the lawsuit in federal court in Nashville, challenging the 2021 legislation on behalf of the child, known pseudonymously as D.H. to protect her identity, and her parents.
HRC details in the announcement that, with the support of her family, D.H. began her social transition at age 6; which is to say she began living in accordance with her gender identity, as a girl, in all aspects of her life.
During that transition period, D.H. was often misgendered by teachers and bullied or harassed by other students when attempting to discuss her gender identity with them.
Her parents, noted pseudonymously as A.H. and E.H, approached the elementary school administration to request both their and their daughters wishes that her identity be respected by both peers and teachers.
Initially the school agreed to using she/her pronouns and instructed her to personally inform each of her 19 classmates individually of her transgender status.
After two failed attempts, where classmates are said to have become argumentative and hostile, D.H. stopped trying and began hiding her face, HRC reports.
By January of 2022, the “administration could not provide D.H. with the support she needed to complete her social transition,” according to the complaint.
The legislation allows cisgender public school students and their families to sue if they’re not given “reasonable accommodation” by their school. Meaning if they don’t want to share bathrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities with trans people, they can take legal action.
Subsequently D.H. was forced out of the facilities she had previously been allowed to use.
“These restroom ‘accommodations’ provided to D.H. by the elementary school are not accommodations at all,” the complaint states. “They reinforce the differential treatment and trauma associated with living under the [Accommodations for All Children Act], violating D.H.’s constitutional and statutory rights.”
The impact of the situation and treatment she received was so traumatic for D.H. that at one point she stopped using the restroom at school entirely, subsequently then starting to limit her food and water intake to avoid needing to use the bathroom, according to the lawsuit.
The 8-year-old has experienced “developed migraines, reflux, and recurring nightmares of school” as a result, the filing states.
It alleges that the law, signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee last May, singles out transgender students for “disfavoured treatment” and violates rights guaranteed to them under the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs.
U.S. Department of Education guidance from June 2021 said discrimination based on a student’s gender identity would be treated as a violation of Title IX. However, in July this year, a federal judge in Tennessee temporarily barred the enforcement of that interpretation.
When the law was enacted in 2021, as a still ongoing slew of anti-LGBTQ+ bills began being raised across the US, Tennessee lawmakers passed, and Lee signed, a total of five divisive anti-queer bills into law, dismissing concerns from advocates that they fundamentally discriminate against an already vulnerable population.
“Years ago, I chose to move to Tennessee because it was known as ‘the Volunteer State,’ whose citizens cared for their neighbors without hesitation – not a state that legalizes discrimination against helpless children,” D.H.’s mother said in a statement.
“Now I am embarrassed to say that I live in a state that refuses to see anything beyond my child’s gender.”
“By filing this lawsuit, I am showing my volunteer spirit – because I’m fighting to not only affirm my child’s existence, but also the thousands of transgender and nonbinary children who live in Tennessee.”
In a statement about the suit, HRC said: “Anti-transgender bathroom bills are discriminatory, wrong and have no place in our country. That’s why we’re suing the state of Tennessee for its anti-trans bill.”
“Every child deserves to feel safe and welcomed in their school. Legislation that excludes and discriminates against kids — particularly trans youth — cannot be tolerated.”
Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director, Chris Sanders, said of the filing:
“Transgender and non-binary students deserve schools focused on their success and free of discrimination. We are unwavering in our support of the Human Rights Campaign as they work to advance equal protection of the law for these students in court”
A similar complaint in the state was filed by HRC last year, but was dropped in February after the plaintiffs and their families decided to move out of Tennessee.
Every child deserves to feel safe and welcomed in their school. Legislation that excludes and discriminates against kids — particularly trans youth — cannot be tolerated.
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) August 4, 2022