Equity & Diversity

Transgender Sister of Trump Inauguration Singer Gets Favorable Ruling in Court

By Evie Blad — February 28, 2017 3 min read
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A federal judge Monday issued a preliminary injunction requiring a Pennsylvania school district to allow three transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity while his court considers their case.

Among those students is Juliet Evancho, the sister of President Donald Trump’s inauguration singer Jackie Evancho, who tweeted an invitation to the president to discuss transgender rights after his administration rescinded Obama-era guidance last week that instructed schools on how to accommodate transgender students.

In revoking the guidance, officials in the U.S. departments of Justice and Education said they would leave it to states and districts to determine whether the sex-discrimination protections in Title IX apply to gender identity and whether or not to grant transgender students access to restrooms, locker rooms, and sex-segregated activities that match their gender identity.

Judge Mark Hornak of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania said the three Pine-Richland School District students, all high school seniors, have a “reasonable likelihood of success” on their claim that a district policy restricting their multiple-user restroom access by sex at birth violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Throughout high school, the plaintiffs—two who identify as female and one who identifies as male—have “lived every facet of their in-school and out-of-school lives consistently with their respective gender identities rather than their ‘assigned sexes,’ ” the judge wrote.

After previously allowing the students to use their desired restrooms, the Pine-Richland school board voted 5-4 to pass the restroom policy in 2016, responding to fears expressed in public meetings “that a student would in essence masquerade as being transgender, and would then use a designated student restroom inconsistent with their assigned sex,” the judge wrote. “This would all occur in an effort to visually examine the sex organs of other restroom users or to engage in some other blatant and malicious invasion of bodily privacy of those simply using the restrooms for their intended purposes.”

The record of those public meetings doesn’t indicate that such an incident ever occurred previously, Hornak wrote.

The record of the case shows that the students “have suffered and will continue to suffer immediate and irreparable harm” under the current policy, the ruling says. The record also shows inadequate justification for treating the students differently from their peers of the same gender identities “based solely on transgender status,” Hornak wrote.

Importantly, the judge did not base his ruling on the plaintiffs’ claims that the district’s policy violates Title IX. He said, in part, that previous court cases they cited in their arguments relied on the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law, which has since been withdrawn by the Trump administration. That issue will be central on March 28 when the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student in Virginia.

As Mark Walsh and I wrote last week, all eyes are now on the courts to determine how federal law applies to transgender students. The Pennsylvania case and Grimm’s case are among at least six lawsuits pending in federal courts related to the issue.

Further reading on transgender students:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.