Three transgender students filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, arguing an Oklahoma law governing school bathroom is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Under the law, transgender students now face discipline by their schools for using a school restroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity. The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn the law.
One of the students suing, Andy Bridge, 16, explains the harm the law has caused.
“I am a boy, and while living authentically hasn’t always been easy, it’s given me a sense of relief and happiness. Being able to use the boys’ restroom might seem like a small thing to others, but it is a vital step in my transition,” Bridge said, according to a press release. “Being barred from using it leaves me singled out and excluded from the rest of my friends and classmates, but also feeling like I’m being told that I’m not worthy of the same respect and dignity as everyone else.”
Proponents of the law say it’s necessary to protect the privacy and safety in school bathrooms. The bill’s author, Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, said it’s part of his efforts to remove “indoctrination” from schools.
But major medical and mental health organizations say excluding boys and girls who are transgender from using the same restrooms as other boys and girls is harmful to their health and wellbeing.
The students are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and pro-bono co-counsel Covington & Burling LLP. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the state Department of Education, state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, the state Board of Education, Attorney General John O’Connor, and the students’ school districts: Noble Public Schools, Moore Public Schools and Harding Independence Charter District.
The attorneys argue the law undermines the health, safety and privacy of transgender students “who are publicly marked as different and inferior each and every time they are denied access to facilities available to their peers who happen to be cisgender,” according to the court filing.
Stitt signed Senate Bill 615 in May and it went into effect immediately. The law requires school restrooms and locker rooms to be designated exclusively for males or females, and students must use the facility for the sex listed on their original birth certificate. Schools are also required to provide a single-occupancy bathroom as an alternative.
School districts that don’t comply could be penalized 5% of their state funding.
At the start of the school year, district leaders were struggling with how to enforce the measure while also maintaining an inclusive and supportive school climate for all students, as reported in this story by Oklahoma Watch reporter Ari Fife.
— Jennifer Palmer