Dept. of Education Says School Must Allow Trans Student-Athlete to Use Girl's Locker Room

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One high school athlete in the Chicago suburbs wasn't asking for much: the ability to change and shower in the same girls' locker room as her teammates. But her school refused to let her do so, simply because she is transgender. In a groundbreaking move, however, federal education authorities found this prohibition violates anti-discrimination laws and threatened to sanction the Palatine, Illinois, district that governs her school, the New York Times reported Monday.

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights told the student's school district that restricting her use of locker room facilities violates her rights under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination and enables equal access to federally funded educational resources. Furthermore, doing so could lead to the district losing its federal funding. The school has "indicated a willingness to fight for its policy in court," according to the New York Times report. This pushback includes the district's attempt at compromise, installing multiple "privacy curtains" in the girls' locker room and forcing the student to use them, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday.

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"It's one thing to say to all the girls, 'You can choose if you want some extra privacy,' but it's another thing to say, 'You, and you alone, must use them,'" John Knight, director of the LGBT and AIDS Project at American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is representing the student, told the Chicago Tribune. "That sends a pretty strong signal to her that she's not accepted and the district does not see her as girl."

The Department of Education agrees. In a recent letter, the department's Office of Civil Rights stated that the student not only experienced "unequal opportunity to benefit from the district's educational program," but also "an ongoing sense of isolation and ostracism throughout her high school enrollment at the school," the Chicago Tribune reported. The district, therefore, was given 30 days to adjust its policy before losing funding, according to the Associated Press.

The federal office's support of this transgender student is particularly meaningful given the countless attacks legislators have waged against trans individual's rights — especially in terms of using gendered spaces. In February, for example, Florida Rep. Frank Artiles introduced legislation that would criminalize transgender individuals' use of single-sex public bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Several other states, including ArizonaTexas and Kentucky have introduced similar "bathroom bills" that would restrict transgender individuals' rights to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. 

This may be part of a larger move toward accommodating the needs of trans students. As the Department of Education's Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon told the AP, "all students deserve the opportunity to participate equally in school programs and activities — this is a basic civil right."

h/t New York Times