ACLU will defend Boyertown transgender student

ACLU will defend Boyertown transgender student

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Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Aidan DeStefano was the transgender student in the locker room with Joel Doe. It has been corrected for accuracy.

A civil-rights organization filed a legal motion Monday to defend a Pennsylvania school district and its policy of protecting transgender students.

Last month, a high-school student and his parents filed a lawsuit against the Boyertown Area School District claiming the student's privacy was violated by a transgender male student in the boys’ locker room. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed to intervene on behalf of Aidan DeStefano, a transgender student at Boyertown Area Senior High School, and the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a statewide coalition of LGBT youth leaders and organizations. One of PYC's member organizations is the Boyertown Gay-Straight Alliance, which includes transgender members who could be affected by the lawsuit, according to the filing.

“Transgender students just want what everyone else wants, to be accepted for who we are,” DeStefano said in a statement. “Reversing the practices that have allowed me and other trans kids to thrive at school would be devastating.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center filed on behalf of the complainant, who is identified as Joel Doe in the filing.

According to the complaint, Doe was changing in the locker room for gym class and, while standing in his underwear, realized a student was in the room wearing shorts and a bra.

Doe and his classmates allegedly spoke with Assistant Principal Dr. E. Wayne Foley about DeStefano’s presence in the locker room to which Foley allegedly responded that there was nothing he could do.

After this conversation, Doe's parents scheduled an appointment with Foley and Principal Dr. Brett Cooper. According to court papers, Foley told the family that the school was “all-inclusive,” while Cooper suggested Doe could use the nurse’s office to change instead.

Additionally, the complaint noted that Superintendent Dr. Richard Faidley said Doe could withdraw from school and be homeschooled.

The student and his family are suggesting the school should regulate facilities based on sex rather than gender identity. In the suit, Doe claims he has been forced to stop changing during class and has received disciplinary actions and poor grades as a result.

In a statement, ACLU of Pennsylvania Executive Director Reggie Shuford commended the school district for defending the transgender student's rights.

“The Boyertown Area School District did the right thing in affirming and respecting their students’ gender identity,” Shuford said. “To foster a positive learning environment, students need an atmosphere that is supportive and respectful of who they are. Boyertown did that and we intend to defend that practice in the interests of our clients.”

“Schools that foster inclusive environments for all students, including transgender youth, should be commended, not sued,” added Pennsylvania Youth Congress Executive Director Jason Landau Goodman.

Leslie Cooper,  senior staff attorney at the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, will be on counsel on the motion to intervene, along with Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Amanda Nelson and Harper Seldin of law firm Cozen O’Connor. 

“It’s important that trans students are given the opportunity to defend themselves against these shameful attempts to isolate and stigmatize them,” Cooper said in a statement. “Schools can and should provide extra privacy protections or private restroom or changing areas for any student who requests it. But no student has a right to demand that transgender students be segregated from their peers.”

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