COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a landmark decision, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Bethel Local School District’s policy of allowing transgender students to use communal restrooms aligning with their gender identity.
The lawsuit was initially launched by a group of parents and students who sought an order mandating the school district to bar transgender students from using communal restrooms that correspond with their gender. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Ohio joined the case in January 2023 to represent a transgender student’s rights.
In a decisive move, Judge Newman dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ federal claims, effectively ending the case.
“Today’s ruling reaffirms that the Constitution is not a vehicle to compel discrimination,” said David Carey, Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU of Ohio. “Nothing in the constitutional guarantees of parenting rights, equal protection, or free exercise of religion mandates that transgender students be excluded from gender-appropriate communal restrooms based on their classmates’ beliefs and values.”
He stated, “For public schools to function, one student’s or family’s religious beliefs cannot provide a basis to exclude another student from full participation in the school environment.”
This significant decision is being hailed as a triumph for transgender rights. Malita Picasso, Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, stated, “Today’s ruling is an amazing victory for our client, all transgender students like her, and all Bethel Area students who deserve a safe and affirming learning environment.”
The court unequivocally asserted that the rights of transgender students like Anne, the ACLU’s client, were not at odds with the rights of her peers, parents’ rights, or the school’s responsibility to ensure the safety of all their students. Picasso stressed, “No student should have to fear discriminatory treatment every morning they walk into school, and this ruling brings us closer to the day no transgender student has to.”
“This ruling reignites hope in the classic sentiment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,'” added Dave Hopkins, Associate Attorney for the Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP. “We have a long way to go, and our arc is far from finished. But in a time where justice and fairness are far from guaranteed, it is quite comforting to see a commitment to equity and the rule of law carry the day.”
The judgment clarified several key points, notably:
The plaintiffs lacked standing for their Title IX claim,
The plaintiffs’ fundamental parenting rights did not require the school to accede to the plaintiff parents’ demands,
Allowing equal restroom access to transgender students did not violate the plaintiffs’ right to equal protection of law,
The school district’s actions did not infringe on the plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion.
This decision arrived a week after the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of transgender students having access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities. This challenge was brought forth by the ACLU of Indiana against a school district policy that required transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity.