Ask Lambda Legal: School Bathrooms

Restroom Sign

by Demoya Gordon, Lambda Legal Regional and Transgender Rights Project Adviser

I am a transgender boy, beginning my junior year at a new high school this month. I am not only anxious about starting classes and meeting new people, but also because I have heard that the school will not let me use the men’s bathroom or locker room. While I really don’t want to make waves, I know that the law provides protection from this kind of discrimination. What are my options for dealing with the school?

Going back to school is tough. Readjusting to a packed schedule, extra-curricular activities, and new friends can be a source of stress for anyone, but using the correct bathroom should not be. Medical experts recognize that it is paramount to the well-being of transgender people to live in accordance with their gender identity in every aspect of their lives. Using the restroom is a core part of that experience, and federal law mandates that a school or workplace cannot bar you from using the bathroom that corresponds with your gender identity.

“Title IX protects all persons, including transgender students, from sex discrimination,” the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) stated recently in GG v. Gloucester County Sch. Bd., reaffirming that preventing a transgender male student from using the bathroom violated federal law. “Granting transgender students access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity will serve the public interest by ensuring that the district treats all students within its bounds with respect and dignity,” the agencies added. Schools also cannot credibly claim that banning a transgender student from using the appropriate bathroom is meant to protect that student from harassment. As both the ED and the DOJ noted, transgender students are safest when they are not singled out by schools as different.

“Allowing transgender students to use the restrooms consistent with their gender identity will help prevent stigma that results in bullying and harassment and will ensure that the district fosters a safe and supporting learning environment for all students, a result that is unquestionably in the public interest,” the agencies said.

If you face difficulty when trying to use the bathroom, these tips from Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Toolkit can help:

  1. Stay calm and explain to school authorities that you are using the restroom that matches your gender identity.
  2. Seek support from a teacher, other adult, or friend who will be on your side.
  3. If the issue persists and you are still being denied access to the bathroom, you can file a complaint with the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (www2.ed.gov/ocr) or with your local or state anti- discrimination agency.
  4. Let us know. Lambda Legal’s Help Desk (toll-free: 866-542-8336 or www.lambdalegal.org/help) takes calls from transgender and gender- nonconforming people who have experienced discrimination.

Denying a transgender person access to the gender-appropriate bathroom increases the danger transgender people face when using public facilities. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and educate others, or reach out to Lambda Legal if you need more help or support. For more information, visit www.lambdalegal.org to find our Transgender Rights Toolkit and our “FAQ: Answers to Some Common Questions about Equal Access to Public Restrooms.”

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and those with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work. Whether buying or selling, we are Rhode Island’s number one option.