Joel Doe is one very upset high school junior, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday. He is embarrassed, humiliated, “does not feel secure in the locker rooms or restrooms” at school and even avoids using the restroom during the school day, all because of his gender identity.
But Doe is not transgender. He’s cisgender, and his lawyers at the Alliance for Defending Freedom are using every legal argument cited by advocates for trans youth to win equal access to bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams, in hopes of reversing those gains with what may prove to be a landmark case of reverse discrimination.
This legal twist is just the latest outrageous maneuver by the anti-LGBTQ and far-right Christian-based ADF, a non-profit organization that has been labeled an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Doe — not his real name, of course — claims that his Pennsylvania school district has violated his civil and constitutional rights by respecting the rights of transgender classmates.
He claims the transgender-friendly student policy established by the Boyertown School District in southeastern Pennsylvania constitutes sexual harassment and a violation of personal privacy, according to WFMZ.
Philadelphia TV station KYW reported this all started last October, when Doe was in the high school locker room, changing his outfit for a physical education class. He then noticed he was in proximity to a transgender classmate, a trans boy assigned female at birth who identifies as male. The station noted that the complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court repeatedly misgendered him, referring to him as female.
“When he was standing in his underwear about to put his gym clothes on, he suddenly realized there was a member of the opposite sex changing with him in the locker room, who was at the time wearing nothing but shorts and a bra,” according to the court document.
Doe complained to school officials “that there was a girl in their locker room,” the lawsuit states. But the school principal allegedly told him that “students who mentally identify themselves with the opposite sex could choose the locker room and bathroom to use, and physical sex did not matter.”
The principal was also purported to have told the boy to “tolerate” the situation and act as naturally as possible.
Ever since, the complaint states that the boy “does not feel secure in the locker rooms or restrooms that are properly set aside for the exclusive use of boys to protect their privacy from exposure to members of the opposite sex.” His lawyers claim the boy “now avoids using the restroom during the school day because of the ongoing risk of having his privacy violated.”
“Plaintiff has experienced embarrassment and humiliation, both in terms of being viewed and viewing a student of the opposite sex in a state of undress and because of the stigmatization and criticism he received from other students and adults,” Doe’s lawyer argue. “He also fears the future embarrassment of meeting students of the opposite sex in the bathroom when simply relieving himself.”
Doe’s attorneys are asking a federal judge to suspend the school policy that lets transgender students use facilities that match their gender identity.
As Buzzfeed reported, Gavin Grimm and other transgender students in lawsuits nationwide have based their arguments on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, banning discrimination on the basis of sex, and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which ensures students can use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The case of Juliet Evancho, transgender sister of singer Jackie Evancho, was heard by a federal judge in Pennsylvania’s western district earlier this year and the judge upheld trans students’ rights in February.
But the suit filed Tuesday flips those concepts on their head, interpreting the law to make transgender-friendly school restroom policies illegal.
The complaint says that since Title IX allows for sex-segregated facilities, only people identified as male at birth may enter facilities designated for boys, and girls facilities would be off-limits to anyone not identified as female at birth. The suit even claims that the 14th Amendment guarantees privacy from people of a birth sex that does not match their own in those facilities.
This argument may be novel but it ignores the common misconception examined by Vox that the gender we are assigned at birth is the gender by which we all identify consistently throughout our entire lives, and the possible permutations of intersex, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals.
No court date has yet been assigned to hear the case. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has yet to officially define how the Department of Justice will proceed on cases of Title IX although it has already removed itself from notable cases involving trans plaintiffs, including the appeal of a Michigan woman fired by her employer because she transitioned. The federal judge in that case determined a funeral home owner’s religious beliefs outweighed Aimee Stephens’ right to express her gender identity at work.