Achieving LGBTQ Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Case Summary & History

Transgender Youth

Case: Highland Local School District v. U.S. Dept. of Educ.

STATUS: Pending, Ohio

On September 26, 2016, Judge Algenon L. Marbley, a federal court judge in Ohio, ordered the Highland Local School District to treat Jane Doe “as the girl she is,” specifically requiring the school district to allow her to use the girls’ restroom and use her female name and pronouns when referring to her. In the order, Judge Marbley ruled that federal law requires courts to defer to the Department of Education’s guidance on transgender youth and that federal sex-discrimination laws, like Title IX, prohibit discrimination against transgender students, which means that schools must treat transgender students in a manner that is consistent with the student’s gender identity. The opinion rejects each of the arguments raised by the District from claims that allowing Jane to use the girls’ restroom would violate the rights of other girls using those same facilities and that the term “sex” is limited to chromosomes and reproductive capacity.

Jane Doe is an 11-year-old transgender girl in the Highland Local Schools. For the past three years, the District has refused to treat her as female for all purposes, causing her to be ostracized and leading to frequent bullying and humiliation by teachers, staff, and students. Following an investigation, the U.S. Department of Education recently concluded that the District is violating Title IX. But instead of trying to remedy that situation, the school district filed a lawsuit in June 2016 – purportedly concerned about protecting the “dignity and privacy” of other students – seeking court orders to try to ensure that the mistreatment of Jane and the violation of her rights, dignity, and privacy will continue unabated. That lawsuit alleges that the United States Department of Education and Department of Justice did not have the authority to issue the May 2016 guidance on transgender students and that federal law doesn’t protect transgender students.

On July 21, 2016, after her multiple attempts to resolve this matter without litigation failed, Jane and her family intervened in the lawsuit filed by the District and, at the same time, sued the District for discriminating against her. Additionally, Jane Doe filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction requesting that the Court order the District to allow Jane to use the girls’ restroom while the lawsuit was pending.

From a very young age, Jane began asserting her identity as female. Joyce and John Doe initially believed that this was a “phase,” but Jane’s statements and actions only became more consistent, persistent, and insistent. Those statements were accompanied by an increasing level of psychological distress. Uncertain about how to alleviate that distress, Joyce and John sought out the advice of professionals. Prior to Jane’s first-grade year, with the guidance of medical and mental health professionals, Joyce and John assisted Jane to begin living as the female she has always been. Unfortunately, the District refused to do the same, which led Joyce and John Doe to file a complaint with the United States Department of Education in December 2013 and this lawsuit.

Read Judge Marbley’s Order.

Read the Complaint.

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