Minnesota transgender student Matt Woods has reached a settlement in his lawsuit against his former school district, which he said discriminated against him when it barred him from using the boys’ bathroom.
The Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District will not only have to pay a $218,500, but it will also change its policies to be more trans inclusive, including allowing transgender students to use the correct bathroom and also to play sports on the team that aligns with their gender, according to a press release from nonprofit legal advocacy organization Gender Justice.
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“I’m glad there will be new gender affirming policies put into place so that no one else has to go through what I went through,” said Woods at an event where the settlement was announced, “because people should be able to express their gender identity and go to the bathroom without being tormented by their teachers and school. Gender-affirming policies will literally save lives.”
Woods will start his senior year of high school in the fall, but no longer attends a school in the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose district, which began prohibiting his use of the boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms when he was in 6th grade.
The Star Tribune explained that the school forced him to use a single-stall bathroom, which no other student had to use. In 2015, Woods was hospitalized for mental health treatment due to the stress of being targeted for discrimination. Nevertheless, the school continued to deny him the right to the boys’ facilities, even when the state’s Department of Education intervened and said Woods should be given access.
“I prefer to use boy facilities because I’m a boy,” Woods said in a 2019 interview with the Star Tribune. “I don’t want to be treated any different than other students.”
His mother, Helene Woods, added, “I’m amazed that I have to go to court just to let my child use the bathroom.”
Woods moved to a more accepting private school after his grades and mental health continued to suffer. He would often wait to go to the bathroom all day so he didn’t have to do so at school. He also began skipping school altogether.
The lawsuit, brought on by Gender Justice, alleged that the school district was in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and by creating an unsafe learning environment, also violated Woods’ right to education.
According to the Star Tribune, the district released a statement saying it “has not admitted to any wrongdoing.”
“The district is pleased that its insurer has elected to resolve this matter,” the statement said, “so that the district can continue to focus on providing a high-quality education to all students in a safe and welcoming environment.”
In its press release, Gender Justice emphasized that respecting transgender identities is the law.
“Today’s settlement announcement puts Minnesota schools on notice: It is illegal – and expensive – to discriminate against transgender students in our state.”
Woods’s victory comes on the heels of another recent victory for trans bathroom access. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a critical Virginia bathroom case that had already been won in the lower courts.
In 2018, a federal district court ruled in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender man who sued Virginia’s Gloucester County School District in 2016 when he was told he couldn’t use the boys’ bathrooms in school. After its defeat in the Virginia courts, in The Gloucester School Board lost again in a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and now, with the Supreme Court’s decision not to weigh in, Grimm’s victory stands.