Tyler, a 15-year-old male transgender Sutherlin High School student, received some unpleasant news last month after his mother read in the newspaper that he had been called out by name in a lawsuit over who should be able to use the boys’ bathrooms at school.
The lawsuit was brought by another Sutherlin student, identified in court documents only as T.B. T.B. and his mother Summer Eastwood alleged the school district was violating T.B.’s privacy rights by letting Tyler use the boys’ bathroom. T.B. and Eastwood voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit this week, partly because similar court cases have recently been rejected by the courts.
Tyler wasn’t a defendant in the lawsuit, but was mentioned prominently in it anyway. That’s one reason LGBT advocates have called this case “bullying by lawsuit.”
Tyler opened up about how this case has affected him in a blog post published Thursday on the ACLU of Oregon’s website. ACLU of Oregon took Tyler on as a client after the lawsuit was filed. The organization was also involved in a similar federal case brought against the Dallas, Oregon school district. A group of parents sought in that case to overturn a school district policy similar to Sutherlin’s. A judge dismissed the Dallas lawsuit in July.
The conflict between Tyler and T.B. began Jan. 31, when Tyler walked into the boys’ bathroom during his fourth-period class. Tyler wrote that he remembered seeing someone there, but didn’t pay attention to who it was. He said he heard someone say, “Isn’t it weird,” but didn’t recall what else was said. He did remember that the people talking referred to him as “she” — a pronoun he doesn’t identify with, and that was also used by the plaintiff’s attorney both in the lawsuit and in conversations with the press.
“I didn’t realize at the time that this bathroom visit was going to end up in court,” he said. “I didn’t even know anybody cared until I was called out of class later that day and sent to the vice principal’s office,” he said.
Tyler said the vice principal showed him security camera footage of him going into the bathroom and told him he had received a complaint. Tyler said the vice principal asked him why he didn’t use the girls’ bathroom.
“Because I’m a guy,” Tyler said. “I’ve been this way my whole life.”
Tyler wrote that he knew from a very young age that he felt male. He played baseball instead of softball. He played football. He wore his hair short. He didn’t relate to girls. In fourth grade, he learned what being transgender meant. That helped him understand himself, but it didn’t prepare him for the reaction of his peers.
“When I was still seen as female, people stood up for me. But after I came out, things just switched,” he said. He got bullied, he said, and called names he wouldn’t repeat on his blog post.
“Feeling unaccepted and like an outcast can really put a toll on you emotionally. I became more secluded, more isolated. This past year, my sophomore year at Sutherlin, was rough,” he said.
He said some other students thought it was funny to call him by the female name he previously used, which he calls his “dead name.” They also used female pronouns when referring to him.
“It just turns into a big laugh fest, seeing how far they can push me, the weird kid,” he said.
But his therapist was supportive, and so was his mother. He also said he’s received a lot of support from advocates since the lawsuit was filed.
“I hope other transgender students in Oregon know that they are not alone. I hope this lawsuit getting dropped means real progress and acceptance,” he said.
ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Mat dos Santos said the organization is “gratified that this meritless, mean-spirited suit was dropped.”
“All students have the right to a safe and inclusive learning environment. Transgender and gender diverse students are free to be who they are at any public school in Oregon and we will be there to protect these important rights should future suits be brought,” dos Santos said.
Shayna Medley, an attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project said courts around the country have rejected cases like the one filed against the Sutherlin School District.
“It is disheartening that transgender and gender nonconforming students are still being targeted by these frivolous lawsuits, but we’re grateful this suit was dropped and will continue to defend trans students’ right to be treated equally in schools,” she said.