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Transgender Students File Federal Lawsuit Against Pine-Richland District

Elaine Thomson

Three transgender seniors at Pine-Richland high school have sued the district for changing its rules about which restrooms they must use. They are being represented by Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

In an email, the Pine-Richland School District said they do not discuss or comment on litigation.  The lawsuit grew out of a school board resolution passed last month that makes students use restrooms that "correspond to their biological sex or unisex facilities."

Previously, the district had allowed transgender students to use the restroom corresponding to their "gender identity."

Jason Landau Goodman is the executive director of Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a statewide LGBT advocacy group. He says the suit is larger than bathroom use.

"This is about so much more," Goodman said. "This is about the basic inclusion and safety of transgender young people in our schools and ultimately the dignity we must be providing transgender people and all people in a civil society."

Two 18-year-old plaintiffs were born biologically male but identify as female, and one 17-year-old was born biologically female and identifies as male. All students are seniors at the school.

In a statement, one of the plaintiffs, Elissa Ridenour, said she was caught off-guard by the board's decision.

"For years, I have used the girls' restroom without incident," Ridenour said. "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?"

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
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Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said his organization, along with Lambda Legal and THRIVE of Southwest PA have been working to support the student plaintiffs and their families since school board meetings included the bathroom policy in their agenda.

Juliet Evancho, another one of the plaintiffs, was nominated for homecoming queen this year. Goodman said this is an example of how supportive the student body has been throughout these board discussions. 

"People in the younger generation have no issue with the inclusion of transgender students," Goodman said. "Younger people are more exposed and really have less barriers."

Goodman said he attended many of the board meetings where the bathroom policy was discussed and saw parents coming out in "droves" against the gender-identity practice. 

The third student has only been identified by his initials, A.S., since he is a minor. 

The lawsuit contends they were "designated" male or female based on their physical appearance alone at birth and are being discriminated against and marginalized by the new policy, which their federal lawsuit seeks to reverse.

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Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community. kblackley@wesa.fm