A Maryland family that sued over school measures to protect transgender students has dropped the lawsuit, citing stress and potential humiliation that stemmed from the legal action.
That means a district policy described by advocates as among the most progressive in the state will remain intact.
The legal battle started after the school board in Frederick County, an exurb of Washington, voted in June to adopt a comprehensive policy on school practices that affect transgender students.
The board’s action was hailed by supporters as an important step at a time of fear and uncertainty. But critics in Frederick County also spoke out, and a lawsuit was filed in August on behalf of an unnamed 15-year-old girl and her mother.
The lawsuit argued that the policy violated the teenager’s right to bodily privacy, saying she fears for her safety and feels humiliated to undress in front of “the opposite sex.” It also claimed that her mother’s parental rights to control her child’s upbringing were violated, and at points made references to totalitarian regimes and Nazi death camps.
In asking that the case be withdrawn, the family’s lawyers said in court documents that the teenager was exposed to “tremendous stress and potential humiliation” for bringing the case and that she worried about being identified by name at school or falsely maligned.
She came home from school in tears one day after learning of a newspaper interview in which she felt she was portrayed as seeking to disrupt the education of transgender students by “taking away their right to be treated with dignity,” the documents said.
The teenager “treats all people with dignity, and has never been and is in fact not discriminatory, and has instead sought to defend and protect her own privacy and speech rights,” the court filing said. “However, she does not believe that she can continue to prosecute her case without an increase in anxiety and fear of loss of her privacy.”
The family’s attorney, Dan Cox, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress last year, echoed those points in an interview Tuesday. “She felt bullied with some of the negativity she read in the paper,” he said.
Cox condemned the board policy, calling it a “radical change to school practices” and suggesting that Frederick County parents will be watching closely to see how it is implemented.
Under the main policy at issue, bathrooms and locker rooms should be available to students according to their gender identity, and alternatives are provided for students who are uncomfortable. The policy also covers topics involving privacy, preferred names, dress codes for major events and participation in sports teams.
Brad Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Education, said Tuesday that he and other officials were pleased that the suit had been withdrawn and would defend the policy again if other legal action arose.
The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland, was dismissed Nov. 6 without prejudice. Future complaints could be filed by the same parties or by others.
“We’re certainly happy to be out of litigation and be able to go back to what we are here for, which is focusing on educating our students,” Young said.
The policy adopted in June formalizes much of what Frederick school officials say they were already doing on key issues such as restrooms. Supporters say the official, written policy adds clarity and will increase compliance.
Young said the board is concerned about all students who may feel uncomfortable at school, including students like the plaintiff. “We will do whatever we can to make all of our students feel welcome and safe and affirmed,” he said.
The turn in the case was cheered by James van Kuilenburg, a 12th-grade transgender student who led fellow students and other allies in a push for the new policy.
“When everyone heard it was dismissed, there was a big, collective sigh of relief,” van Kuilenburg said. “It was scary to see something we were all so proud and grateful to have might be gone.”
The Frederick effort started after the Trump administration revoked Obama-era guidance that said transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity.
“This policy is like a promise from the school system to protect every student, not just transgender students,” van Kuilenburg said. “It gives all students the freedom to be themselves in school.”
After the lawsuit was filed, other groups filed motions to intervene in support of the county school system. They included the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland; FreeState Justice, an LGBT advocacy organization; and the Frederick County Teachers Association. The suit was dropped shortly afterward.