Transgender student accuses school of 'stigmatizing' treatment

Story highlights

  • 16-year-old Ashton Whitaker says "school administrators have made my life miserable"
  • Ashton is a transgender student who first made news when he ran for prom king

(CNN)A Wisconsin transgender student who fought his school for the right to run for prom king is suing the school district for the right to be treated like a boy.

Students at Tremper High School in Kenosha rallied around 16-year-old Ashton "Ash" Whitaker in April when the administration denied his request to run for prom king. They staged after-school protests and signed his petition demanding the right to run for prom king.
The administration eventually reversed course and let him run. But a lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 Board of Education and its superintendent of discrimination in several "stigmatizing" acts through the end of the school year and continuing into summer when he went to band camp.
"My peers and many of my teachers know me as a boy, and have been incredibly supportive," Ashton said in a statement through the Transgender Law Center, which is representing him with Washington-based civil rights firm Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC.
Melissa Whitaker, left, and her son, Ash.
"But the school administrators have made my life miserable every school day since this spring, when they told me I could no longer use the boys' restrooms, which I'd been using with the support of my classmates for months. I worry about how I'm going to navigate the demands of senior year if I can't even go to the bathroom without worrying that I'm being watched."
The district and its legal counsel are reviewing the claims, spokeswoman Tanya Ruder said.
"The district is confident that when the litigation process establishes accurate facts and applies them to the proper legal standards its policies and practices will be found to be in total compliance with all laws," Kenosha Unified attorney Ron Stadler said.
The lawsuit comes at a time when states are grappling with guidelines from the Obama administration that direct public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
"Many states, including Wisconsin, have questioned whether the dear colleague letter is an administrative rule that was adopted by the Department of Education without following the administrative procedures act. Others have challenged whether the Department of Education's interpretation of Title IX is valid," Ruder said.
"The district will be analyzing both of those issues."

'Humiliated and uncomfortable'

Ash began to transition publicly to life as a boy in freshman year, cutting his hair, changing his clothes and going by masculine pronouns among friends, according to the lawsuit. In sophomore year he came out to teachers and classmates and began requesting that they use male pronouns and a new name.
At an orchestra performance in January 2015 he wore a tuxedo just like the other boys, with the support of his orchestra and his teacher, the lawsuit says.
When his mother requested in March 2015 that he be allowed to use the boys' restroom, administrators demurred, leaving him with the choice of the girls restroom or a single-occupany restroom for visitors and office staff far from most of his classes, the lawsuit says.
He grew anxious at the prospect of undermining his male identity and having to explain to others why he was being treated differently. He also feared the impact it could have on his disciplinary record. To avoid using the restroom he limited his liquid intake, triggering migraines and dehydration, the lawsuit says.
His anxiety intensified during a July 2015 orchestra trip to Europe during which he was made to bunk with a