WASHINGTON — The transgender sister of a performer who sang at President Donald Trump's inauguration and two of her schoolmates must be given access to school restrooms that match their gender identity, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled on Monday, less than a week after the Trump administration withdrew a policy that said schools must provide that access to transgender students.
US District Court Judge Mark R. Hornak issued a temporary injunction barring Pine-Richland School District from enforcing a policy that said transgender students could either use single-person bathrooms or facilities matching their birth sex.
In issuing his opinion suspending that policy, Hornak ruled that the students would likely prevail on their claims that the rule denied their equal protection rights under the equal protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
However, the court sidestepped a national debate about whether civil rights laws already ensure transgender students access to restrooms — a question scheduled to go before the Supreme Court in March. In doing so, Hornak did not address the question about whether the students would prevail on a claim the school district policy violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
The Trump administration last week withdrew guidelines from the Obama era that said Title IX ensured transgender students must have access to facilities in accordance with their gender identity.
The court found, instead, that the Constitution's equal protection guarantee provided relief for the students — and that they are likely to succeed on those claims.
The plaintiffs include three students at Pine-Richland High School, including Juliet Evancho, who is the sister of Jackie Evancho, who sang at Trump's inauguration. The other plaintiffs are Elissa Ridenour and another student identified only as A.S.
For multiple years, two of the students used restrooms in accordance with their gender identity with no issues until a parent of a student at the high school made an inquiry in 2016.
Hornak wrote in an order Monday, "The Plaintiffs appear to the Court to be young people seeking to do what young people try to do every day-go to school, obtain an education, and interact as equals with their peers. … [T]he Plaintiffs have shown a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the District's enforcement of Resolution 2 as to their use of common school restrooms does not afford them equal protection of the law as guaranteed to them by the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The students' lawyers celebrated the ruling.
"Such policies are not only wrong, they are illegal," Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said in a statement Monday. "The rescission of a guidance by the Trump administration cannot change that.”