BY AJ Trager
WYANDOTTE – The Associated Press reports that the federal government is supporting a Detroit-area teenager who has accused several schools of discriminating against him because of his gender identity.
Schools in Wyandotte, Van Buren and Dearborn Heights, as well Summit Academy North, are being accused of taking no action in response to the boy’s harassment by staff and other students due to his gender identity. Those being accused deny the allegations and have filed motions to dismiss the case.
In a court filing last week, the U.S. Justice Department urged a judge to deny the schools’ requests to dismiss the lawsuit at an early stage. The government says the boy has stated a “plausible claim” under federal law.
“The United States has a significant interest in ensuring that all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of discrimination and that the proper legal standards are applied to claims under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause,” read the brief filed by the Department of Justice before the Feb. 22 conference with the court.
James Rasor, attorney for the youth and former Royal Oak city commissioner, was one of the leading forces to get the LGBT human rights ordinance passed in 2013. He filed the complaint against the districts in Detroit federal court late last year.
“The rights that are being violated are important United States constitutional rights,” Rasor said. “I think the United States wrote an excellent brief in support of Title IX applying to the situation, and I think their research was spot on. Obviously I think when the United States intervenes on behalf of a party that that certainly carries weight.”
Three school districts and one charter school allegedly contributed to continued harassment and violations of state and federal civil rights against the plaintiff.
Over the course of three years, the transmasculine identified youth suffered repeat accounts of misgendering by teachers and administration staff, even after repeated attempts by the plaintiff’s mother to remedy the source of the tension. Additionally, the plaintiff suffered continued harassment and bullying from his peers; segregated bathroom usage; breaches of teacher-parent confidentiality in regards to the plaintiff’s medical history; and sex-based discrimination from district officials.
“You couldn’t wish for a more strident and forceful parent than the mother in this case. She went to great lengths to educate the schools as to what her son’s thoughts were on the matter. The schools, despite that, went in the opposite direction. She would tell them that the prevailing literature indicates that they need to accept the gender choices of the individual and call them by the name that they prefer,” Rasor said. “The school said, ‘No,’ and his female birth name was regularly used during attendance, yet he is extensively and in every respect a young boy.”
School administrators from all schools failed to identify the youth properly, though he had been living as a boy for many years prior to enrolling in the schools. However, on continuous occasions, school staff and administrators outed him to students and other parents.
“All kids have certain confidential information that parents share with school administrators so that their educational experience can be one which is free and designed in a way that is appropriate. Imagine any parents’ shock of the nightmare of a school administrator sharing that confidential information with parents of other children. That is an enormous breach of trust and confidentiality that we trust schools to have,” Rasor said.
In the complaint, Rasor lists ten counts against the school districts that include: equal protection under the law, sex/gender discrimination under Title IX, sex-based harassment under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, violation of the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, violation of the 14th Amendment and First Amendment, equal protection rights under Michigan law, gross negligence, violation pursuant to Monell and violation of civil rights through supervision, customs, policies, acquiescence and training.
“We are going to be asking the judge to carefully review the policies and procedures of these school districts to make sure other school districts in the future are not subject to this type of bullying from the schools.”
The DOJ brief was signed by the acting assistant attorney general; James Cole Jr., the general counsel for the U.S. Department of Education; U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade; and several other attorneys from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.