(WB) A federal district court ruled Monday in favor of the transgender sister of the singer who performed at President Trump’s inaugural festivities seeking to use the bathroom at her Pennsylvania school consistent with her gender identity — but not on the same terms as the contention in similar litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a 48-page decision, U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak issued a preliminary injunction in favor of Juliet Evancho — the sister of Jackie Evancho — and Elissa Ridenour, who are both transgender females, as well as another transgender male plaintiff identified as A.S.
“The Plaintiffs appear to the Court to be young people seeking to do what young people try to do every day-go to school, obtain an education, and interact as equals with their peers,” Hornak writes.
Although Pine-Richland High School in Pennsylvania initially allowed Evancho and her fellow plaintiffs to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity, the school was forced to change its policy in September after the board, under pressure from anti-LGBT groups, enacted Resolution 2, which requires students to either use facilities corresponding to their biological sex or unisex facilities.
In October 2016, Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit against Pine-Richland High School over the change in policy on the basis it discriminates against the plaintiffs under the 14th Amendment and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments on the basis of sex. Joining Lambda in filing the lawsuit were Tracie Palmer and David C. Williams with Kline & Specter P.C.
The court, which suspended enforcement of Resolution 2 as the case continues through the court, also denied the Pine-Richland School District’s request to dismiss the case.
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, who represents the transgender student as staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said the court ruling is a “huge win” for the plaintiff students who “will be able once again to use the bathroom that matches who they are.”
“Not withstanding the Trump Administration’s misguided and cruel actions last week, the court today found that the school’s policy barring transgender students from the restroom that matches who they are violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Gonzalez-Pagan said.
The ruling is significant after the Trump administration recently rescinded guidance instructing schools that they must allow transgender kids to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity and litigation filed by transgender student Gavin Grimm, who is suing to use the boys’ room in his school in Gloucester County, Va.
But Hornak, an Obama appointee, declined to rule in favor of Evancho and fellow plaintiffs on the basis of the prohibition on sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forms the basis of the litigation pending before the Supreme Court and the Obama-era guidance the Trump administration rescinded.
“Put plainly, the law surrounding the Regulation and its interpretation and application to Title IX claims relative to the use of common restrooms by transgender students, including the impact of the 2017 Guidance, is at this moment so clouded with uncertainty that this Court is not in a position to conclude which party in this case has the likelihood of success on the merits of that statutory claim,” Hornak wrote.
Instead, Hornak ruled in favor of the plaintiff students based on a determination that denying them access to the restroom consistent with their gender identity likely contravenes the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“Like ‘sex,’ as to these Plaintiffs, gender identity is neither transitory nor temporary,” Hornak writes. “Further, what buttresses that conclusion is the fact that the school community as a whole treats these Plaintiffs in all other regards consistently with their stated gender identities, along with the reality that these Plaintiffs live all facets of their lives in a fashion consistent with their stated and experienced gender identities. These are all factors that have informed the judgments of other courts in applying the intermediate scrutiny Equal Protection analysis in the case of classifications involving transgender status, and in this Court’s estimation, they apply here.”
Rachel Hathhorn, a spokesperson for the Pine-Richland School District, had few words in the response to the ruling, but said the school district would comply.
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“The district will implement the order issued through the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania,” Hathhorn said.
Jackie Evancho performed at Trump’s inaugural festivities despite criticism from Trump supporters who objected to her transgender sister and Trump opponents who believed she shouldn’t contribute to the inaugural festivities based in part on Trump’s anti-LGBT positions.
Elissa praised the court in a statement for allowing her to use the restroom consistent with her gender identity without stigmatization or fear of reprisal from her school.
“This is wonderful news and a tremendous relief that we can now use the bathroom without feeling isolated and humiliated,” Elissa said. “The past months have been incredibly stressful, and this was all so unnecessary. There was no problem before, and we are confident there will be no problem now.”
- Chris Johnson, Washington Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association