The outlook may be grim for transgender rights at the national level, but three transgender students at a Pennsylvania high school are relieved to hear that, for now, they can use the bathroom of their choice. On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the students have the right to use the school bathrooms of their choice, as they continue to fight their school district’s policy on the matter in federal court, NBC News reports. And there’s an interesting connection to national politics in this case—Juliet Evancho, one of the transgender plaintiffs, is the sister of Jackie Evancho, who sang at President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.
The judge also shared that the three students are likely to win their case challenging the school district on equal protection grounds—as Pine-Richland School District has not proven that their bathroom policy advances an important government interest or that students’ personal privacy is being threatened, NBC News reports.
Officials say that the school policy is in place because parents complained of their children feeling uncomfortable using school restrooms with others who have different genitalia than themselves. This led to the school deciding students should use restrooms based on their biological sex or one of the 10 unisex bathrooms within the school until a more permanent policy was created, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While restrooms for both genders include locking individual stalls, and the men’s restrooms have urinals with privacy screens, people are still afraid that some students might exploit the policy, pretending to be transgender in order to spy on the opposite gender. As Vox explains, however, this is a myth: There is “no evidence that nondiscrimination laws—and other policies that also let trans people use the bathroom for their gender identity—lead to sexual assault in bathrooms and locker rooms.”
According to U.S. district Judge Mark Hornak, other than a report from one student in October 2015 claiming “there was a boy” in the girl’s bathroom and a parent commenting about something similar in 2016, it seems there really have not been any problems in the school surrounding the issue. He also noted that there is no proof that the three transgender students have violated anyone’s “physical or visual privacy” while using the restrooms.
The students, all seniors, chose to come together in October to challenge the school’s bathroom policy. Elissa Ridenour, 18, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the three will soon start using the bathrooms of their choice at school. While she is glad for this win, she added, “We still have a fight left to go, but we’re not going to give up.”
This case has become even more important now that the Trump administration has ended federal protection for transgender students, which previously allowed them to use public bathrooms of their choice. Now, the government is leaving it up to individual states and school districts to decide how transgender students should be treated.