PITTSBURGH (CN) — The older sister of "America's Got Talent" runner-up Jackie Evancho used a federal complaint to demand that their school repeal a new policy banning transgender students from using bathroom facilities which correspond to their identified gender.
Classmates Juliet Evancho, Elissa Ridenour and unidentified minor A.S., all transgender seniors at Pine-Richland Public High School in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, say they feel targeted and isolated by the school's adoption of Resolution 2, which creates unnecessary tension with classmates.
The new rule replaces the school's all-inclusive bathroom policy with one that forces transgender students to choose between single-stall unisex restrooms or those which adhere to their gender assignment at birth, the teens say in their Oct. 6 complaint.
Students found violating Resolution 2 are subject to discretionary punishment by school officials, according to the lawsuit. Consequently, the students say they often go full school days without a bathroom break due to fear and embarrassment.
Just six months before the start of the 2016 fall semester, school superintendent Brian R. Miller wrote an email to Pine-Richland families expressing the school's support for gender-transitioning students through its inclusive policy.
Under that policy, Pine-Richland students were free to use the bathroom that corresponded to their gender identity, and all students with privacy concerns were free to use single-stall unisex restroom facilities if they wished.
"In our high school, transgender students have been able to use a private bathroom, such as the nurse's office, a single room unisex bathroom, or the bathroom of their gender identity. This has occurred for several years. To date, we are not aware of any inappropriate actions on the part of any student," Miller wrote in his March 11, 2016 email.
But Miller's statements incited a backlash from angry Pine-Richland parents, who formed the website prparents.org to voice concerns for their children's privacy. They called school authorities "activists" in a "twilight zone," according to the students' complaint.
PR Parents teamed up with Students and Parents for Privacy, a group of families represented by conservative Christian legal defense group Alliance Defending Freedom in their battle against Cook County, Illinois, School District 211 for its inclusive bathroom policy.
On its website, Students and Parents for Privacy say they "object to students being forced to use the restroom, or change clothes, with someone of the opposite sex in the room."
In response, Pine-Richland school officials held a series of public forums for parents and students to discuss the school's bathroom policy.
During those meetings, attendees heard statements from doctors at Pittsburgh Children's Hospital, who cited peer social acceptance as a crucial factor to the psychological health of transitioning teens.
Additionally, Pine-Richland School Solicitor Patrick Clair spoke to the potential consequences of sex-segregated restrooms given Title IX recommendations released this past May by the U.S. Department of Education the Justice Department, including the loss of federal funding.
Many students and faculty showed their support for the transgender teens with shirts bearing the slogan "Pine-Richland Does Not Discriminate," and not a single student spoke out against the school's inclusive bathroom policy during the six-month forum period, the complaint says.
"[I]t was the school board's goal to maintain civil discourse and encourage different points of view," the students say in their complaint.
Instead, the teens say they were "regularly misgendered, compared to predators, and subjected to statements that demeaned their gender identity."
On Sept. 12, 2016, Pine-Richland school officials voted 5-4 in favor of Resolution 2, and implemented the policy the following day.
"As a result, plaintiffs and other transgender students have experienced and continue to experience the harmful effects of being segregated from, and treated differently than, their cisgender classmates of the same gender identity at Pine-Richland High School, including lowered self-esteem, embarrassment, humiliation, social isolation, and stigma," the complaint says.
"All of these harmful effects have also heightened the symptoms, including depression and anxiety, of the gender dysphoria suffered by plaintiffs and other transgender students," the students say.
Evancho, who says she felt compelled to come out as a woman after performing a duet with her sister on television, claims she has been bullied by male classmates and now feels unsafe at school.
On Sept. 27, 2016, Evancho claims she was sent to the principal's office after the school's assistant principal caught her using the girls' restroom.
Ridenour, who relied on support from community LGBTQ resource PERSAD when she told school officials in 2012 that she would be starting eighth grade as a female student, says she is "terrified" at the prospect of using the boys' bathroom at school.
"She also feels like she's under constant surveillance, being watched and monitored, as if she were being placed in a Petri dish," according to the complaint.
In 2015, A.S. was admitted to a crisis center after enduring incessant bullying from classmates, according to his father. And since Pine-Richland's adoption of Resolution 2, things have gotten worse: One of his art pieces exploring gender identity themes was vandalized while on display at school, he claims.
"Not only does having to use the girls' restroom cause great discomfort to A.S., A.S. also worries about how cisgender girls would feel if he, a boy, were to use the girls' restroom," he says.
Evancho, Ridenour and A.S. are represented by Tracie Palmer and David Williams of the firm Kline and Specter in Philadelphia, and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
"Lambda Legal will do whatever is necessary to protect transgender students' rights in the Pine-Richland School District and in school districts across the country," the LGBT nonprofit said.
Pine-Richland officials, the Alliance Defending Freedom and Jackie Evancho's publicist did not respond to requests for comment.
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