A transgender teenager in Tennessee locked himself in a bathroom stall as a group of boys shouted slurs and tried to beat and kick down the door, traumatizing him. But the school is saying that it’s actually the victim of the bullying who was in the wrong here since he was in the boys’ bathroom.
“I don’t understand why my son would be punished when he’s the victim of what to me is a hate crime,” said Sherri Yandle, the mother of Tobi Yandle, 16.
Tobi is a junior and he tried to use Siegel High School’s single-person faculty restroom. Under a state law passed earlier this year, cisgender students have a right to sue schools if they encounter a transgender person in the restroom and schools are supposed to provide an “alternative” for transgender students, like letting them use the faculty’s facilities.
But the faculty restroom was locked, and security camera footage confirms that Tobi tried to enter those restrooms but couldn’t get in. So he went to a nearby boys restroom instead and entered the first stall that he saw.
A group of boys saw him go into the restroom and followed him, chanting slurs. They tried to break down the door while Tobi put his feet on the toilet and his back against the door to keep it closed.
He texted a friend for help while he tried to keep the mob out of the stall, and eventually Assistant Principal Lori Gober heard the ruckus and broke up the mob.
“When finally somebody came in to clear out the bathroom, the assistant principal found Tobi in the bathroom stall, crying, scared to death,” his mother Sherri Yandle told the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. “I think the scenario going through Tobi’s head was they were going to physically harm him.”
But that’s where the school stopped helping Tobi and turned on him. The boys who were threatening and bullying him weren’t punished because Tobi was the one who broke the rules first by using the boys room.
“She stated because of Governor Lee’s laws that the other students could sue the school if they didn’t like it that a transgender child [was] in the bathroom,” Yandle told News Channel 5, referring to a phone conversation with Gober.
Yandle says that the law shouldn’t matter – the boys were bullying and threatening her son’s safety and they should be punished.
“I’d like to see these boys held accountable for what they did to my son, regardless of the reason,” she said.
Rutherford County Schools stressed in a statement that it has a policy that “allows students or employees to use private, single stall bathrooms if needed and requested. The state of Tennessee also has enacted a new law concerning transgender students and bathroom use, and the school district is required to follow this law.”
The statement says that Yandle hasn’t contacted them and that there are “variances in the story,” but it otherwise didn’t speak to the bullying.
“They are not supposed to let any child be bullied, and all children are supposed to be safe when they go to school and in that instance, I feel like this school failed,” Yandle said.
H.B. 1233 was introduced by state Rep. Jason Zachary (R), who said that high schools felt “handcuffed” by the law, unable to ban transgender students from using the correct bathroom.
“There’s not much they can do about it,” he said at the time. “This bill takes care of that. It stops all that and just provides absolute clarity.”
Two parents have filed a lawsuit against the state with help from HRC to overturn the law. They argue that the law effectively denies transgender children educational opportunities, violating Title IX, which bans discrimination in education, as well as the Equal Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution.
It also cites President Joe Biden’s executive order from earlier this year that says that Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination also bans discrimination against LGBTQ people because it’s impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity without taking sex into account. The White House has stated that it’s his administration’s policy that “trans rights are human rights.”
Tennessee passed several other anti-LGBTQ laws this year, including a ban on transgender students participating in school sports, a requirement that schools give parents 30-days notice before discussing LGBTQ people, and a law requiring businesses to post signs for cisgender customers if they allow transgender customers to use their restrooms.