INDIANAPOLIS — A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that transgender students in Indiana must have access to the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Tuesday upheld a preliminary injunction from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana last year ordering the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville and the Vigo County Schools to give the transgender students such access.
Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, issued a statement welcoming the appeals court ruling.
“Students who are denied access to the appropriate facilities are caused both serious emotional and physical harm as they are denied recognition of who they are. They will often avoid using the restroom altogether while in school,” Falk said. “Schools should be a safe place for kids and the refusal to allow a student to use the correct facilities can be extremely damaging.”
Martinsville Superintendent Eric Bowlen said in an email “we are reviewing the decision and evaluating available options.”
The Vigo County School Corp. said in a statement it was reviewing the decision with legal counsel.
The court opinion said the U.S. Supreme Court will likely step in to hear the case, or cases similar to it.
“Litigation over transgender rights is occurring all over the country, and we assume that at some point the Supreme Court will step in with more guidance than it has furnished so far,” the opinion said.
Although Indiana doesn’t have any current laws restricting bathroom access for transgender students, nearly a dozen other states have enacted such laws, including North Dakota, Florida and Kansas.
The case originally required John R. Wooden Middle School in Martinsville to allow a seventh-grader identified only as A.C. to have access to the restroom while litigation continued.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in Indianapolis cited Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in her ruling at the time. Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
“The overwhelming majority of federal courts — including the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit — have recently examined transgender education-discrimination claims under Title IX and concluded that preventing a transgender student from using a school restroom consistent with the student’s gender identity violates Title IX. This Court concurs,” Pratt wrote.
The ACLU and Indiana Legal Services sued the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville in December 2021 on behalf of the transgender student.