Lawsuit filed against Tennessee ‘bathroom bill’

·4 min read

Story at a glance

  • The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a 2021 Tennessee law that prohibits transgender students from using school restrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity.

  • A similar complaint was filed by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the HRC, last year. That lawsuit was dropped in February after the plaintiffs and their families decided to move out of Tennessee.

  • Thursday’s complaint was filed on behalf of D.H., a transgender 8-year-old girl entering the third grade in Williamson County, Tenn.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights groups, is suing the Tennessee Department of Education and its commissioner over the enforcement of a state law barring transgender students from using school facilities like restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court alleges that the law, signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) last May, singles out transgender students for “disfavored treatment” and violates rights guaranteed to them under the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. The U.S. Department of Education last year said the policy protects students from discrimination based on their gender identity.

The law, officially titled the Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act, requires state public schools to provide “reasonable accommodation” for students who “will not or cannot” use a gender-specific facility.

Under the measure, a “reasonable accommodation” does not include access to a restroom or changing room that is “designated for use by members of the opposite sex while persons of the opposite sex are present or could be present.” In this case, “sex” is defined as a student’s sex assigned at birth, which the law argues is immutable.

America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the HRC, filed a similar lawsuit against the Tennessee law last year, but that case was dismissed in February after both plaintiffs and their families decided to move to another state.

Thursday’s complaint was filed jointly with the law firm Linklaters on behalf of a transgender 8-year-old girl entering the third grade in Williamson County, Tenn. Jason Golden, the director of Williamson County Schools, and the Williamson County Board of Education are also named as defendants in the complaint.

According to the lawsuit, the girl, identified pseudonymously as D.H. to protect her identity, had previously been permitted to use the girls’ restroom at school for in-person events while engaging in distance learning in 2021.

Once D.H. returned to the classroom earlier this year, she was barred under the Accommodations for All Children Act from using facilities aligning with her gender identity and made to use a single-occupancy restroom which reportedly has on more than one occasion been covered in human waste.

“These restroom ‘accommodations’ provided to D.H. by the elementary school are not accommodations at all,” the complaint states. “They reinforce the differential treatment and trauma associated with living under the [Accommodations for All Children Act], violating D.H.’s constitutional and statutory rights.”

In a statement on Thursday, HRC Litigation Director Cynthia Cheng-Wun Weaver called state lawmakers that backed the law “power hungry” and accused them of supporting the legislation to ignite their base.

“It is unfortunate that Tennessee lawmakers are using their authority to attack some of our nation’s most vulnerable – our children,” she said.

D.H.’s mother, identified in the suit as A.H., said she felt ashamed to live in an area so hostile to transgender young people.

“Years ago, I chose to move to Tennessee because it was known as ‘the volunteer state,’ whose citizens cared for their neighbors without hesitation – not a state that legalizes discrimination against helpless children,” she said Thursday. “Now, I am embarrassed to say that I live in a state that refuses to see anything beyond my child’s gender.”

“By filing this lawsuit, I am showing my volunteer spirit – because I’m fighting to not only affirm my child’s existence, but also the thousands of transgender and nonbinary children who live in Tennessee.”

Neither the Tennessee Department of Education nor Williamson County Schools immediately responded to Changing America’s request for comment.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.