Karen Fratti
May 31, 2017 8:42 am
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Although the fight for federal protections for transgender students is far from over, states might be changing the game. This week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Wisconsin ruled in favor of a transgender boy using the boys’ bathroom. Ashton Whitaker will graduate from Tremper High School in Kenosha this month, but he’s been battling the school district since he was a sophomore. In September, Judge Pamela Pepper of the United States District Court ruled that Whitaker could use the boys bathroom, but the school appealed the decision.

The school district argued that there was more harm done to the other boys if Whitaker used the bathroom. The judge totally disagreed, saying that that “harm” was totally speculative, whereas Ashton has well documented medical issues stemming from not being able to use a restroom and has had suicidal thoughts. That’s real harm. Judge Ann Claire Williams of the Seventh Circuit Court agreed in her ruling this week. She wrote, “A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non-conformance, which in turn violates Title IX.

Her ruling is a pretty big victory, especially since earlier this year the Trump administration wrote a memo from the Department of Justice rolling back some Obama-era protections that said that transgender students and bathroom usage fell under Title IX discrimination. So here, sort of like with Trump’s travel ban, the courts are using their judicial power to not take the new recommendations that schools have to let transgender students use bathrooms.

The Wisconsin transgender bathroom ruling means other students might have a case, too.

After Trump’s transgender bathroom memo earlier this year, Gavin Grimm’s case was sent from the Supreme Court of the United States back to a lower court because of the Trump administration’s new recommendations. But Whitaker’s case could be used as precedent to keep pushing it further.

Whitaker told NBC News, “I hope my case will help other transgender students in Kenosha and elsewhere to just be treated the same as everyone else without facing discrimination and harassment from school administrators.” Because he stuck to his cause, he really might have helped other transgender students, not just in the school district, but in states everywhere.

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