We need to take a moment and give a round of applause for the brave group of students who, with the help from Lambda Legal, are filing a discrimination lawsuit against the Pine-Richland School District in the North Hills. Juliet Evancho, Elissa Ridenour, and A.S. (a minor identified only by his initials) all started this semester thinking they would still have the safe space that Pine-Richland once held for them.
However, a few weeks into the school year, the Pine-Richland school district adopted a policy forcing transgender students to use the bathroom that goes against their gender identity or find a separate single-stall bathroom.
The experience of the students has been of isolation and stigmatization, an experience our community is all too familiar with. Juliet Evancho in particular has been speaking about her experiences, most recently in an issue of Teen Vogue. She feels the anti-transgender policy has fostered an atmosphere that has encouraged harassment.
“I was shocked and appalled when I learned about the vote to adopt the new restroom policy. For years, I have used the girls’ restroom without incident,” said Elissa Ridenour. “Now, I feel constantly under surveillance. I’m a girl. But I’m expected to use the boys’ room? Or to use some ‘separate’ bathroom that no one else has to use? How is that fair?”
Lambda Legal cites Anti-LGBT organizations and fearful parents as the root cause of the policy adoption.
After years of allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that match their identity, last month the school board for the Pine-Richland School District caved to outside pressure and unfounded fears.
“After years of allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that match their identity, last month the school board for the Pine-Richland School District caved to outside pressure and unfounded fears. By voting to reverse the district’s longstanding inclusive restroom practice and to restrict the rights of transgender students, the school board has violated federal law and imposed harm upon Pine-Richland’s transgender students,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said.
If the students prevail, which they surely intend to, the School District would be ordered to provide transgender students access to the restrooms that match their gender identity and to treat them according to their gender identity. There is also a possibility the district may be ordered to pay damages.
“We are saddened by the Pine Richland School Board’s decision this summer to reverse years of support for transgender and gender expansive students out of fear, misunderstanding, and pressure from outside organizations,” says Executive Director of THRIVE, Vanessa Davis. “We fully support Elissa, Juliet, and A.S’s rights under Title IX legislation to go to school in a safe and affirming environment, free from discrimination based on their gender identity and expression.”
Davis also encourages the queer community to take action at this time. “We think its important for the LGBTQIA students, families and educators to know they have a role to play in the legislative process. Using your voice to inform your local, state, and federally elected officials know that you deserve equality under the law is a very important way to affect change.”
Support the students in their efforts to end discriminatory bathroom policies that are singling out transgender students by visiting lambdalegal.org to sign the petition.
To Juliet, Elissa and A.S. – we are here for you and here with you.
This article originally appeared on QueerPgh.com. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.