7th Circuit Issues Groundbreaking Ruling for Transgender Student 

Ruling upholds transgender boy’s right to use boys’ restroom at school; first-ever ruling of its kind by a federal appellate court

Today the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a groundbreaking ruling in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, a case involving a 17-year-old transgender Wisconsin student whose school had denied him access to the boys’ restroom. The unanimous panel held for the first time at the federal appellate level that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 7th Circuit ruling affirms a lower district court ruling which held that the plaintiff, Ash Whitaker, represented by the Transgender Law Center,  has faced concrete harms for being denied access to the boys’ restroom, and which orders the school to allow him to access to the restroom consistent with his gender. Today’s ruling can be found at http://files.eqcf.org/cases/16-3522-82/.

In this unanimous decision authored by Judge Ann Claire Williams, the court upheld the preliminary injunction, issued by a federal district court in September 2016, that has allowed Ash, a senior at Tremper High School in the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to use the boys’ restrooms at school throughout his senior year without fear of discipline or invasive surveillance by school officials.

I am thrilled that the Seventh Circuit recognized my right to be treated as the boy that I am at school,” said Ash. “After facing daily humiliation at school last year from being threatened with discipline and being constantly monitored by school staff just to use the bathroom, the district court’s injunction in September allowed me to be a typical senior in high school and to focus on my classes, after-school activities, applying to college, and building lasting friendships.

“As I look forward to college next year, I hope my case will help other transgender students in Kenosha and elsewhere to just be treated the same as everyone else without facing discrimination and harassment from school administrators.”

The court’s opinion makes the 7th Circuit the highest court ever to decisively find that that Title IX’s prohibition on sex-based discrimination includes discrimination against transgender students. The court also found that the school district’s treatment of Ash violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The court writes:

“The School District has failed to provide any evidence of how [allowing Ash to use the boys’ restroom] will harm it, or any of its students or parents. The harms identified by the School District are all speculative and based upon conjecture, whereas the harms to Ash are well‐documented and supported by the record. … By definition, a transgender individual does not conform to the sex‐based stereotypes of the sex that he or she was assigned at birth. …  A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non‐conformance, which in turn violates Title IX.”

Similar cases concerning school districts restricting restroom access for transgender students are also currently pending before the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and 6th Circuit.



Melanie Nathan
[email protected]

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