For most of his junior year of high school, Ashton Whitaker used the boys’ bathroom. None of the other students had a problem with it, or at least they hadn’t said as much, Whitaker said. And he didn’t see the need to discuss it with faculty members.
Then a teacher at Whitaker’s school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, noticed where Whitaker was going to go. And the teacher told school officials, according to a federal lawsuit.
At the time, neither Temper High School nor its district had a policy on students’ restroom use, the suit said. But the principal and two assistant principals decided that transgender students wouldn’t be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, the suit said. That meant Whitaker, who is transgender, could no longer use the boys’ bathroom.
Deeply uncomfortable with going to the girls’ bathroom, Whitaker continued to use the boys’ facility when he needed to. But at this point he was aware he could face consequences, so he tried to avoid using restrooms by not eating or drinking at school, the suit said. That didn’t stop staff from monitoring his restroom use, the complaint said.
Later in the year, a guidance counselor at the school showed Whitaker a bright green wristband that the school intended to use to mark students who are transgender, according to the lawsuit. “Branding” transgender students would single them out for scrutiny or possible harassment, the suit said. Whitaker felt “sickened and afraid.”
Whitaker’s lawyers claim in the complaint filed in July 2016 the school’s insistence on denying Whitaker the right to use the restroom of his choice left him humiliated and distressed and violated his civil rights. Attorneys for the district had argued, among other things, that no student is allowed to use a bathroom that doesn’t correspond to their birth gender, therefore all students are treated equally under the policy, court documents show.
But a federal judge sided with Whitaker two months later, granting an injunction that allowed Whitaker to use the male-only restrooms at the school throughout his senior year, the Kenosha News reported. The school appealed and lost, so it sought the attention of the nation’s highest court in August, just months after Whitaker graduated.
On Tuesday, however, the Kenosha Unified School Board voted to withdraw the petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court as part of an $800,000 settlement reached with Whitaker, the newspaper reported.
Whitaker said in a statement released by the Transgender Law Center that he’s “deeply relieved” that what he called a “long, traumatic” part of his life is over. “Winning this case was so empowering and made me feel like I can actually do something to help other trans youth live authentically,” he said.
Whitaker is now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Buzzfeed News reported.