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Minnesota joins lawsuit that accuses Anoka-Hennepin School District of trans discrimination

The school district is alleged to have violated a transgender student's human rights.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has filed to join a lawsuit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District and Board, accusing it of discriminating against a transgender student.

A lawsuit was filed against Minnesota's largest school district last month by the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union, concerning an incident at Coon Rapids High School dating back to 2017.

The suit alleges that a transgender male student who was a member of the boys' swim team was forced to use an "enhanced privacy" boys' locker room, which was "entirely separate and segregated from the main boys' locker room."

The Department of Human Rights (DHR), represented by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, has now joined the suit, arguing that the boy – referred to as N.H. – was unlawfully segregated based on his gender identity.

"What happened to my son was not OK," said the boy's mother in a DHR press release on Tuesday. "My interest has always been in trying to make things better for all Minnesota students. The Department of Human Rights and the Attorney General’s involvement sends a clear message to them that they are valued and deserve respect."

The DHR contends that banning the boy from using the main boys' locker room because he is transgender "resulted in a hostile education environment that stigmatized N.H. and other transgender students."

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The state notes that several claims of discrimination have been filed against Anoka-Hennepin School District, including in 2011 following the suicide of four LGBTQ students.

In that lawsuit, the school district was accused of perpetuating a "harmful and toxic environment for LGBTQ students," which in 2012 saw the federal Department of Justice demand it take proactive measures to reduce discrimination.

“Everyone wants to live with dignity and respect. Being treated equally is one of the most important ways that we achieve that," said AG Ellison. "Transgender people, however, are facing challenge after challenge in being treated equally, including in school.

"I’m proud to support the Department of Human Rights in making sure that transgender folks live free from discrimination."

Anoka-Hennepin School District responds

The following statement was issued by the school district on Tuesday afternoon, in which it said it believes its actions at Coon Rapids High conforms with state and federal law.

"Anoka-Hennepin Schools is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to providing an education that supports all students and families, including transgender and gender nonconforming students.

"The use of restrooms and locker rooms are determined on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable. Plans for accommodation for restroom and locker room use are made in consultation with school building administrators, the Title IX coordinator, and superintendent in compliance with state and federal law. This approach is consistent with guidance from the National School Boards Association and the Minnesota School Boards Association. Providing privacy for all students is an important consideration. 

The Minnesota Supreme Court held in Goins v. West Group “that the Minnesota Human Rights Act neither requires nor prohibits restroom designation according to self-image of gender or according to biological gender."

"In permitting the student to use the boys restrooms and locker room consistent with his gender identity, the District surpassed what Minnesota law prescribes. Information regarding individual students is considered private student data and the district is not allowed to comment on such information.  Anoka-Hennepin is confident our actions conform with state and federal law."

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