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ACLU leads lawsuit over Oklahoma transgender bathroom ban

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Robby Korth
/
StateImpact Oklahoma
An all-gender restroom sign at Leadership Tulsa.

Three Oklahoma students are suing the state over its law that bars transgender students from using the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity.

The 42-page suit challenges that Senate Bill 615 is unconstitutional. A team of attorneys from the ACLU of Oklahoma, the national ACLU, Lambda Legal and pro-bono co-counsel Covington & Burling LLP argue the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX because it’s discriminatory toward trans students based on their identities. The students are suing the state anonymously.

“I am a boy, and while living authentically hasn’t always been easy, it’s given me a sense of relief and happiness,” the lead plaintiff Andy Bridge said in a news release from the ACLU. “Being able to use the boys’ restroom might seem like a small thing to others, but it is a vital step in my transition. Being barred from using it leaves me singled out and excluded from the rest of my friends and classmates, but also feeling like I’m being told that I’m not worthy of the same respect and dignity as everyone else.”

Oklahoma banned trans students from using the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity beginning this school year. The state will penalize public school district’s up to five percent of their annual state aid if they are found to allow trans students to use the bathroom of their choice.

“Youth who are transgender in Oklahoma schools now face mandated discipline, possibly even suspension, simply for using the restroom and other facilities at school corresponding with who they are,” the lawsuit says.

The bill has been criticized by many people in the LGBTQ+ community. In May – the day Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law – StateImpact spoke with transgender students about its potential impact moving forward and didn’t use the students’ last names.

“I understand that they think they’re doing it in a place of protecting people,” transgender Tulsa high schooler Jaz said then. “It just harms the people who want to identify how they identify.”

The bill passed with supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature and has support from a number of Oklahoma GOP politicians.

“Senate Bill 615 is just an application of that basic truth to the public school context,” Attorney General John O’Connor said in a statement when it passed. “Nothing can be more reasonable than insisting that a child be allowed to use bathroom facilities or change clothes without the threat of intrusion by a person of the opposite sex.”

The lawsuit names numerous state officials and school districts including: The Oklahoma State Department of Education, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, six other members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education, State Attorney General O’Connor, Noble Public Schools, Moore Public Schools, Oklahoma City Public Schools and Harding Independence Charter District, Inc.

The ACLU is representing the three filers, Bridge, a 16-year-old 12th grader at Noble High School, a 10th grader and a middle school student. The latter two students filed the suit under pseudonyms.

Suits over bathroom bans have seen some success.

A 2016 law in North Carolina that barred trans people from using the restroom corresponding with their gender identity was effectively overturned following a federal court settlement in 2019.

In 2021, The US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal after a lower court ruled a Virginia school district had discriminated against a transgender student by barring him from using the bathroom of his choice.

Mental health support for LGBTQ+ individuals is available through the Trevor Project. Their hotline is 866-488-7386, and help is also available through thetrevorproject.org.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Robby Korth grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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