[REDACTED], who has chosen to make her name public in order to fight discrimination, and her parents [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] are suing Heritage Oaks Private Education in Orange County, California. Heritage Oaks is a for-profit and secular pre- through middle school that bills itself as having high academic standards.
The family alleges that the school did nothing to accommodate their daughter’s transition, that it refused to allow [REDACTED] to wear a girl’s uniform, did not use the correct name or pronouns for her, and did nothing to stop bullying. They are suing under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law that prohibits discrimination by private businesses based on gender identity and gender expression, as well as other categories.
The complaint says that [REDACTED] preferred playing with stereotypically girls’ toys and wearing girls’ clothes at a young age. At 4, she told her parents that she was a girl, and her parents told her that gender was a spectrum, like hot and cold water, and she could be whatever kind of boy she wanted to be.
Two years later, she was still insisting on being called a girl, and her parents took her to a therapist. It was then that they allowed her to grow her hair out and wear girls’ clothes.
That same year, her parents enrolled her at Heritage Oaks because it said that its goal is to “develop the whole child.” [REDACTED] was still presenting as a boy at school at the beginning of the year, but her parents say that they talked about her transition with the school’s executive director Phyllis Cygan, who did not make any decision on how [REDACTED] would be treated.
By November, they informed the school that [REDACTED] would be living full time as a girl, but Cygan did not respond to their requests that [REDACTED] be called by the correct name or allowed to use the girls’ bathroom.
In January, the school insisted that [REDACTED] wear the boys’ uniform and use the staff bathroom. The complaint says that Cygan said that the school was a “conservative institution.” Her parents claim that this decision empowered the other kids – including Cygan’s son – to bully [REDACTED].
She began to withdraw from her friends and school and even began talking about suicide because “life is really hard.” She is now being home-schooled by her mother, who quit her job.
Kerry Owens, vice president at the advertising firm MGH, released a statement on behalf of Nobel Learning, which owns Heritage Oaks. The statement says that several older students had already transitioned in the school, and that the school needed time to develop a strategy with an outside consultant.
“Due to the sensitivity of the issue and age of the child, we believed we needed expert guidance regarding timing (such as preparing children for a change they would see in spring semester of second grade and fall semester of third grade), process and age-appropriate communication,” the statement says.
The Unruh Civil Rights Act bans discrimination by businesses. A 2009 appeals court ruling found that private, non-profit schools could not be sued under the act in a case where a Christian school expelled two bisexual students. Heritage Oak, though, is a for-profit school.
The lawsuit is seeking over $10,000 in tuition and fees, as well as damages for emotional distress and discrimination. They are also asking the school to change its policies.
Note: LGBTQ Nation was contacted by the girl’s parents on Dec. 12, 2020, who asked us to remove her name from this article to protect her privacy. At the time this article was originally published, the LA Times reported that the girl and her parents want “you to know her name,” but we’re removing it out of courtesy.