Federal appeals court upholds ruling on bathroom access for Indiana trans students

A protestor holds up a card reading "protect trans youth"

A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling that trans students in Indiana have the right to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled in favour of claimants at the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU Indiana), who claimed that Indiana school districts had failed to provide transgender youth with access to bathrooms consistent with their gender.

An earlier preliminary injunction from the US District Court for the Southern District of Indian ruled that the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville and Vigo County School Corporation had violated the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to provide trans students with the same bathroom and amenities access as their cisgender peers.

The Equal Protection clause within the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution says that US states shall not enact laws which “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” nor can they “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

While the ruling currently means the districts must allow trans students to use the facilities of their choice, the court’s opinion noted that the US supreme court could intervene in this or similar cases.

“Litigation over transgender rights is occurring all over the country, and we assume that at some point the supreme court will step in with more guidance than it has furnished so far.”

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The Indiana ACLU celebrated the win as a step in the right direction for repealing anti-LGBTQ+ policies within the state, while highlighting the hurt these policies can cause.

“Students who are denied access to the appropriate facilities are caused both serious emotional and physical harm as they are denied recognition of who they are, ACLU Indiana attorney Kenneth Falk said. “They will avoid using the restroom altogether while in school.

“Schools should be a safe place for kids and the refusal to allow a student to use the correct facilities can be extremely damaging.”

Prior to reaching the Court of Appeals, the lawsuit filed by ACLU Indiana in 2021 demanded that a middle school in Martinsville allow several students, who remained anonymous, to have access to the bathroom which corresponded to their gender identity.

US district judge Tanya Walton Pratt, who presided over the case, wrote that Title IX of the Education Amendments, which protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs, was applicable to the lawsuit.

“The overwhelming majority of federal courts – including the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit – have recently examined transgender education-discrimination claims under Title IX and concluded that preventing a transgender student from using a school restroom consistent with the student’s gender identity violates Title IX,” Pratt wrote in her ruling.

Research from the ACLU found that, of the 492 anti-LGBTQ+ bills it is tracking in the US, 228 are having a negative effect on LGBTQ+ students.

Six of those bills have come through the Indiana legislature, while all but one have been defeated.

Megan Stuart, director of the advocacy nonprofit the LGBT Project of Indiana Legal Services, said that it also commended the ruling by the Court of Appeals, adding it affirms that schools must respect a student’s gender identity.

“Indiana Legal Sevices is proud of our work helping LGBTQ+ Hoosiers whose rights have been violated and in expanding the law to ensure LGBTQ+ people can live safe, long lives,” Stuart continued.

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