Today, a Frederick County transgender student filed a motion to defend his school board’s policies that seek to prevent discrimination, harassment, and stigmatization of transgender and gender nonconforming students in the school system, and that seek to ensure students are free to use school facilities in accordance with their gender identity. He is represented by FreeState Justice, the ACLU, the ACLU of Maryland, and Nixon Peabody, LLP.
The student filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit currently pending in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, in which a non-transgender student seeks to overturn the Frederick County School Board’s policy protections for transgender students.
The school board’s policies, adopted in June 2017, were welcomed by community members from all over Frederick County. James van Kuilenburg, an honor student at Governor Thomas Johnson High School and the transgender student who moved to intervene today, explained that the policies “gave me the ability to finally be myself and access all parts of my education.”
The lawsuit against the Frederick County School Board was filed anonymously by a non-transgender student and her mother who claim that allowing transgender students restroom and locker room access infringes upon student privacy rights. However, the only privacy violation alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint is by a non-transgender student. The lawsuit also seeks to invalidate policies preventing harassment, and protecting the confidentiality and privacy of transgender students.
In the wake of the lawsuit, the Frederick County group “Support FCPS Trans Students” has started a social media campaign #IAmFrederick to show support for their transgender classmates.
According to van Kuilenberg, reversal of the policies would be “devastating.” “There is an epidemic of trans students feeling unsafe, depressed, and suicidal,” he explained, and a removal of the policies in place to protect them would “create a culture of fear and misunderstanding.”
“It’s important that trans students are given the opportunity to defend themselves against these shameful attempts to isolate and stigmatize them,” said Gabriel Arkles, senior staff attorney at the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. He added, “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.”
“The Frederick County School Board did the right thing: they created policies that affirm and respect their students’ gender identity.” said Jennifer Kent, Managing Attorney of FreeState Justice, “We intend to vigorously defend these policies in the interests of our client and affected students in Frederick County Public Schools.”
Said ACLU of Maryland Senior Staff Attorney David Rocah, “Everyone seeking an education, including those who are transgender like James, should be treated fairly and equally under the law. Frederick is joined by hundreds of school districts around the country that allow transgender students to use school facilities based on their gender identity. These policies include transgender students as equal members of the school community while still protecting the privacy of all students.”
Counsel on the motion to intervene also include Leslie Cooper and Gabriel Arkles of the ACLU, David Rocah, and Nick Steiner of the ACLU of Maryland and John Hayes, Brian Whittaker, and Kenneth Nichols of the law firm Nixon Peabody, LLP.