ACLU-TN Initiative Aims to Raise Schools’ Awareness

January 28, 2015

Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN communications director, (615) 320-7142

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today sent a letter to every school district in the state explaining that allowing transgender students access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities is required by federal anti-discrimination law.

“Transgender students are a part of our communities and our schools, and they should be treated with dignity and respect just like everyone else,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Schools have a duty to ensure that all students, including transgender children, can learn in a welcoming and harassment-free environment.”

ACLU-TN’s letter was sent to clarify misleading assertions made by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) about schools’ responsibilities to transgender students under federal law. ADF recently sent a letter to Tennessee schools advising practices that could put schools at risk of violating the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, exposing schools to legal liability.

Legislation pending in the Tennessee General Assembly could also put schools at similar risk. HB 2414/SB 2387 would require students in public schools and public institutions of higher education to use restrooms and locker rooms that match the sex on students' birth certificates.

According to ACLU-TN’s letter, “Excluding transgender students from using the same restrooms as other students deprives them of equal access to educational opportunity in violation of Title IX…The U.S. Department of Education has said that Title IX requires schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity when separating students in different facilities, such as restrooms.”

In addition, ACLU-TN’s letter explains, “excluding transgender students from the same restrooms used by other students also violates the Equal Protection Clause. There is no important government interest—or any interest—that justifies this differential treatment of transgender students based on their gender identity.”

“We all want to protect students’ safety and privacy,” Weinberg continued. “Hundreds of school districts around the country allow transgender students to use facilities based on their gender identity. There is no data of any kind to support the contention that these policies undermine student safety. Indeed, these policies actually enhance safety by ensuring that schools are not sending the message that it is okay to target or stigmatize transgender students.”

A copy of the letter sent today is available here.

Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools can be found here.