The Williamson County Board of Education and the Tennessee Department of Education have been named as the defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by the parents of a transgender third-grade student who are alleging discrimination following the enforcement of the "Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act."
The lawsuit was filed last week in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee and also names Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden and TDE Commissioner Penny Schwinn in their official capacities.
The lawsuit centers around an eight-year-old student only identified as "D.H." who attends an unspecified WCS elementary school, who according to court documents, was "designated male sex at birth, but knows herself to be female" who is "experiencing adjustment disorder."
The law said that schools had to make a "reasonable accommodation" for someone who does not identify as their assigned gender at birth, with that "reasonable accommodation" being defined as a single-occupancy restroom or changing room. These accommodations, per the bill, do not include a restroom or changing room "that is designated for use by members of the opposite sex while persons of the opposite sex are present or could be present."
The lawsuit, which is supported by the Human Rights Campaign, seeks to have the court issue an injunction against the bathroom law and allow the student to use the girl's restroom.
The lawsuit details that the student began identify herself as a female at six years old.
"With the support of her family, D.H. began her 'social transition' in the spring of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means that at that time, D.H. began living in accordance with her gender identity, first with her family and then with her broader community," the lawsuit reads. "This followed a period in which D.H. was persistently unhappy and upset, consistent with the distress experienced because of her adjustment disorder.
"In the first grade, the first year D.H. attended the Elementary School in-person while using 'she/her' pronouns, D.H. was often misgendered by teachers, and bullied and harassed by students who became hostile and argumentative when she attempted to share her gender identity with them."
After meeting with her parents in 2020, the school initially agreed to address the student using "she/her" pronouns, but the parents did not want the school to make a public announcement, instead relying on their daughter to tell her classmates individually.
"After two failed attempts at this one-by-one approach, D.H. was too distressed to continue trying. Boys in her class had become increasingly argumentative and hostile with her about her gender identity," the lawsuit reads. "D.H. told her parents she was thankful for having to wear a mask for COVID-19 because it hid her face, and she even learned how to cry out of one eye so other kids would not notice."
In the fall of 2021, the student was enrolled in online school and was permitted to use girl's bathrooms at in-person school events, support that "helped alleviate some of the social stressors."
In January 2022, the student returned to in-person school after she wanted to be "reunited with her friends and community," but the lawsuit alleges that she no longer received the support for her transition from the school, in part due to that 2021 law having gone into effect.
"D.H. was forced to use one of four single-occupancy restroom facilities at the Elementary School—each of which presented its own issues," the complaint reads. "These issues included D.H. having to clean restrooms covered in human waste before using them, and being forced to out herself as transgender in front of other students or janitorial staff."
The lawsuit also alleges that the student in question was harassed by other students when she attempted to use a shared girl's restroom and was "often forced to choose between outing herself and being confronted by classmates or refraining from using the restroom altogether.
"These restroom 'accommodations' provided to D.H. by the Elementary School are not accommodations at all. They reinforce the differential treatment and trauma associated with living under the School Facilities Law, violating D.H.’s constitutional and statutory rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972."
In addition to claims of harassment, which included one incident at the school's "Daddy-Daughter Dance," the lawsuit alleges that the student in question was physically attacked by another student at a bus stop.
The complaint alleges that the school has not been accommodating or understanding for the needs of the student, inaction that has resulted in the student wishing to stay home from school due to her own safety concerns and has allegedly caused the student to have "internalized transphobic thoughts" from her traumatic experiences at school.
Williamson County Schools does not traditionally respond to inquiries about ongoing lawsuits.