The Boyertown Area School District was sued Tuesday by a high school student and his parents who say his “bodily privacy” was violated when he saw a transgender student -- identified as female in the filing -- undressing in the locker room as he also was changing.
Two conservative faith-based organizations, Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It claims the Berks County school district did not notify parents or students that it was allowing transgender students at Boyertown Area High School to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity. Rather, the suit charges, the district “secretly opened” its sex-specific restrooms and locker rooms to students of the opposite sex.
According to the filing, the student complained to school officials, who informed him that students who “subjectively identify themselves as the opposite sex” can choose which locker room they use. When the student twice asked school officials to protect his privacy, he was told he must “tolerate” it and make changing with students of the opposite sex as “natural” as can be, the suit said.
The student and his parents were not identified.
Boyertown administrators issued a statement saying they had not received the complaint and had no comment.
Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, better known as GLSEN, which supports LGBT students, said nondiscrimination law provides a simple remedy to the situation: The student who felt uncomfortable should be given a separate accommodation. "This does not need to be made into a litigious issue," she said.
However, the Trump administration's rollback of Obama-era guidelines on transgender-student rights, Byard said, is "providing messages to these groups that they have license to discriminate."
In a statement, Independence Law Center chief counsel Randall Wenger said: “No school should rob any student of his legally protected personal privacy. We trust that our children won't be forced into emotionally vulnerable situations like this when they are in the care of our schools because it's a school's duty to protect and respect the bodily privacy and dignity of all students. In this case, school officials are clearly ignoring that duty."
In an interview after a news conference in Center City on Tuesday afternoon, Wenger said the case could affect many other school districts.
"If the Boyertown Area School District is violating our client's rights, other school districts in Pennsylvania are violating their students' rights," he said.
The suit against the Boyertown district claims sexual harassment under Title IX, a federal law; violation of the fundamental right to bodily privacy under the U.S. Constitution; and violation of a state privacy law.
Last month, a federal judge ruled in favor of three Pennsylvania transgender students who sued their school district over a bathroom-choice policy they say violated their civil rights.
The ruling granted a preliminary injunction to the students at Pine-Richland School District near Pittsburgh and effectively ensured they will be able to use the bathroom corresponding with their chosen gender identity as their case proceeds through the courts.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has filed other lawsuits that it says protect religious liberty, including issues of abortion rights and gay marriage. The group, whose website says it was founded in 1994 by 30 Christian leaders to defend religious liberty before it was "too late," was recently added to the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Its leaders and affiliated lawyers, the center said, have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.' "
The Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center says it defends human life at all stages and the right to freely exercise religion.