A federal judge in Chicago last week refused to order Township High School District 211, based in Palatine, Illinois, to suspend its policy on bathroom use by transgender students, saying that anti-discrimination laws that have been on the books for decades do apply to student whose gender identity isn’t conventional, the Associated Press reports.
- Read the order of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
The district’s policy, forged in the spotlight of the nation from another federal lawsuit two years ago, is one that respects the rights of all students, District 211 Superintendent Daniel Cates said in a letter to district families last month. “The Illinois Department of Human Rights has already dismissed this case, stating there was no evidence of discrimination,” he wrote. “Still today, these matters divide communities across the nation.”
Despite a nation divided over this issue, students and staff at the district’s five high schools “are not divided on this issue,” he wrote. “Every day in our schools, transgender students have full access to the bathrooms of their identified gender. Each day, transgender students use the locker room of their identified gender. Some seek more private accommodations, and those are provided as well.”
US District Judge Jorge Alonso agreed and struck a blow to more than 50 families who had joined a lawsuit aimed at ending the policy and forcing the district to force transgender students to use bathrooms based on their biological sex. His 15-page opinion said courts have consistently and “correctly recognized” that “federal protections against sex discrimination are substantially broader than based only on genitalia or chromosome.”
Since that original case, I have consistently held that protections need to be extended to transgender students, but I have differed slightly with this opinion on these pages in that the word “sex,” which is the technical word in the law, to a biological scientist like myself, refers to the presence of a Y chromosome in the cells of the body. Legally, Congress should act to reword Title IX and similar statutes to include our new understanding of sex—i.e., gender—because I believe everyone now understands that protections should extend beyond XX or XY classifications. In the meantime, though, courts will have to step in to interpret Title IX, which is far superior to the US Education Department redefining “sex” when Congress, and Congress alone, is responsible for writing the laws.
Judge Alonso’s refusal to issue a temporary injunction doesn’t mean the families have lost the case, but it does indicate that he believes their principle claim that the policy infringes on the rights of non-transgender students lacks merit, based on the evidence presented before the case can be heard in a trial. Often after such a ruling, cases are dropped.
And the judge is backed by recent rulings from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. In May, that court ruled that a transgender student in Wisconsin, who identifies as a boy despite looking like a girl, should be allowed to use the boys’ bathroom at his high school. The court found that the privacy rights of other students in the bathroom were no more at risk from the presence of a transgender student in the bathroom than they would be from other students who were curious and started peering around.
That guidance from the higher court, Judge Alonso wrote, “is now clear, and binding.”