Transgender Student Files Suit Against School District, Alleging Discrimination
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A transgender high school student in Kenosha, Wis., is suing his school district, saying it has discriminated against him by refusing to treat him as a boy. Ash Whitaker says he was told not to use the boys' bathroom and that school staff told his mother they intended to ask trans students, including him, to wear a green wristband. I talked about this with Ash and his mom, Melissa, who's also a teacher at his high school. Ash says things escalated in February after a school employee saw him in the boys' bathroom.
ASH WHITAKER: When I went to dry my hands, I just glanced over really fast. And I saw that it was a former teacher, and he kind of had this wide-eyed look. We didn't really have an interaction, and so I was like - OK, crisis averted.
Later that week, I had ACT testing. So Administration, after having the emails sent back and forth, told my mom that I need to be told not to use the boys' bathroom anymore. But she didn't want to tell me before I took my ACT. When I finished, that's when she told me about everything that had happened.
MCEVERS: That they said you couldn't use the boys' bathroom anymore. And what did you - what was your reaction?
WHITAKER: I'm pretty sure I cried (laughter). I was really upset because I didn't know what I was going to do. Like, I was really broken up about it.
MCEVERS: Melissa, one allegation in this lawsuit that has gotten quite a bit of attention involves a plan to ask transgender students to wear green wristbands. Can you explain that a little bit?
MELISSA WHITAKER: One of the staff members spoke to me as a parent and said that this was now made available for transgender students, knowing that we would resist that. It was humiliating, it's degrading, and it singles him out. And that's not what we want.
MCEVERS: What was the school's reasoning for these wristbands, as far as you understood it?
WHITAKER: This is Ash. How I interpreted it was they were using wristbands to monitor trans students because they told the staff member that these trans students would use the wristbands to make sure they didn't use the restroom they weren't supposed to be using. That's very demeaning.
I felt like after hearing that, that I wasn't a person. I was just - it made me feel like I just shouldn't leave the house, that I should just stay home and not bother anybody, and that it would be easier.
MCEVERS: The Kenosha Unified School District has responded to your lawsuit on its website. They say they're reviewing the complaint, but they also say some of your allegations are patently false. They say they, quote, "do not have a practice or policy requiring any student to wear wristband for monitoring or for any reason whatsoever" and that they have, quote, "worked diligently with transgendered students and their family to address their unique needs and accommodations." What's your response to this?
WHITAKER: First off, they diligently harassed my son. They diligently took him out of class at any time they wanted to speak with him. They diligently took me out of the class while I was teaching to speak with me. But they have not diligently worked with other transgender students the way they like to say they have. In fact, other students are not wanting to come forward because of how Ash has been treated.
WHITAKER: The fact that they are denying the disrespect that they have given me - the fact that they intentionally use she pronouns and my birth name as some sort of - like, it felt like a punishment, like I was doing something wrong and that I need to be reprimanded for it.
MCEVERS: Well, Melissa and Ash Whitaker, thank you both so much for talking to me.
WHITAKER: Thank you.
WHITAKER: Thank you so much for having us.
MCEVERS: We reached out to the school district for a response to the Whitakers' lawsuit. A lawyer representing the district repeated that the district has worked, quote, "diligently on behalf of its transgender students" and that it is up to the courts to decide the exact scope of those students' rights. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.