Three transgender students in Oklahoma sued the state on Tuesday over a new law requiring students at some schools to use restrooms and locker rooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificates, arguing that the measure is discriminatory and should be struck down.
The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oklahoma and the LGBTQ legal advocacy group, Lambda Legal, on behalf of the three students. They argue that the law, which went into effect earlier this year, violates the students’ constitutional rights and Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded schools.
“SB 615 deprives Plaintiffs and students who are transgender like them of their rights to equal dignity, liberty, and autonomy by branding them as second-class citizens,” the 42-page lawsuit reads. “Defendants thus have denied and continue to deny Plaintiffs equal protection of the laws in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the (Constitution’s) Fourteenth Amendment.”
The law applies to students in pre-K through 12th grade at public and public charter schools in the state. Transgender students who decline to use the restroom required under the measure would have to use “a single-occupancy restroom or changing room” provided by the school. School districts that fail to comply can have a portion of their state funding cut and could be sued by school parents.
Tuesday’s suit represents LGBTQ advocates’ latest attempt to use legal action to block a controversial law targeting members of the community, with Tennessee having already been sued over a similar bathroom law. Advocates have worked for years to combat such bathroom laws, criticizing them as an unnecessary and harmful.
The lawsuit names the Oklahoma State Department of Education, state Attorney General John O’Connor and four school districts as defendants, among others. The state attorney general’s office declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation, and CNN has reached out to the other defendants in the lawsuit.
When Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt approved SB 615 in May, it became the third anti-trans law enacted in the state this year. The trio of laws helped make 2022 a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ state bills, with lawmakers around the country having introduced at least 162 through July 1, according to a CNN analysis of data compiled by the ACLU.
In pushing such bathroom measures, proponents have argued that the safety of cisgender students is at risk when trans students are able to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, something O’Connor repeated after SB 615 was enacted. Prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and state human rights commissions have consistently denied that there is any correlation between allowing trans people to use a bathroom of their choice and a spike in assaults, CNN previously reported.
“Nothing can be more reasonable than insisting that a child be allowed to use bathroom facilities or change clothes without the threat of intrusion by a person of the opposite sex,” the attorney general said in a statement earlier this year.
The lawyers detail in the lawsuit how the bathroom law affects both the day-to-day lives of trans students as well as their mental health.
“When excluded from the multiple occupancy restrooms, students who are transgender often avoid using the restroom entirely. This may be because using single-occupancy restrooms would reveal that they are transgender to others, is stigmatizing, or is impractical to use given how far the single occupancy restroom may be from a student’s classes or for other reasons,” it states.
“Treating boys and girls who are transgender differently than their peers and excluding them from the same restrooms used by peers of the same gender also increases their risk of or worsens, their anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm; could lead to suicide; and interferes with the treatment of, and may cause or increase the intensity of, their gender dysphoria,” the lawyers wrote.
The political debate around which bathroom trans people are allowed to use exploded in 2016 when North Carolina enacted a law that had required people at a government-run facility to use bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificate, if the rooms in question were multiple-occupancy. The measure drew intense criticism from businesses and advocates, and it was later repealed.