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Lexington families sue over anti-LGBTQ+ education provisions of Senate Bill 150

People sitting in chairs face to the left. Many of them hold signs that say, "We will not comply with SB 150." They are at a Jefferson County Board of Education meeting Aug. 7, 2023.
Jess Clark
Activists and parents urged the Jefferson County Board of Education to take a stand against SB 150 in August 2023.

The families of five trans and nonbinary Lexington students are suing their school board and the state over new restrictions on their rights in school under Senate Bill 150.

The class action lawsuit filed in Fayette County Circuit Court Thursday alleges new laws around bathroom access, pronoun use and classroom speech violate students’ right to public education and privacy, as guaranteed under the state constitution.

“[The] General Assembly, and [The Fayette County Board of Education and Attorney General Daniel Cameron], possess no power or authority to establish or enforce arbitrary, discriminatory, and privacy-invasive conditions that restrict or burden the right of every child to receive — and the right of every parent’s child the opportunity to receive — an appropriate and quality public education,” the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs also say the law constitutes sex discrimination under state law.

It’s the first challenge to the education provisions of Senate Bill 150. That 2023 law is already facing challenges over sections that ban gender-affirming medical care for trans children.

The plaintiffs are suing the Fayette County Board of Education and the state, asking a state judge to block enforcement of the provisions.

Who are the plaintiffs?

The plaintiffs are the families of five Lexington children, aged 10 to 17, who are transgender and/or nonbinary. All of the students attend Fayette County Public Schools, the state’s second-largest school district.

FCPS bowed to provisions in SB 150 in July, barring trans students from bathrooms that match their gender and banning sex education in elementary school.

The five children come from four families referred to in the complaint as the Doe family, the Poe family, the Roe family and the Noe family. They are using pseudonyms to protect their privacy.

According to the complaint, the children have been intentionally misgendered by staff and peers, had their privacy invaded, been outed, humiliated and barred from appropriate restrooms as a result of SB 150 and their school district’s corresponding policy.

Several children, including a 10-year-old trans girl called “Child Roe,” say they are being singled out and forced to use “special” restrooms or restrooms that don’t match their gender, even when
single-gender bathrooms had stalls for privacy.

“Child Roe was still refused and so humiliated and embarrassed by being segregated from the other girls during the first school-day’s restroom break that Child Roe now reports to her parents that she will not use the restroom at school at all and will instead ‘hold it’ until she gets home,” the lawsuit reads.

A 17-year-old trans boy, “Child Poe 1” and a 14-year-old trans boy called “Child Noe,” say they face similar problems with bathroom access.

Attorneys argue this creates a hostile educational environment for all trans and nonbinary children in Kentucky.

“No child can attend a public school and be a student therein without ready access to a school restroom,” the complaint reads.

Parents of Child Doe, another 10-year-old who is nonbinary, say a school office employee intentionally misgenders them when conversing with the child’s father, and that a peer does the same. SB 150 protects the right of school staff and students to intentionally misgender trans and nonbinary children.

Child Poe 2 is the younger sibling of Child Poe 1, and is a nonbinary 12-year-old.

Privacy concerns

One of plaintiffs’ key arguments is that enforcing SB 150’s bathroom and pronoun provisions would require school staff to violate students’ federal and state privacy protections.

The law requires schools to bar students from restrooms and locker rooms that don’t match their “biological sex” determined by their chromosomes or their anatomy.

It also prevents school districts from forcing staff or students to use pronouns “that do not conform to a student's biological sex as indicated on the student's original, unedited birth certificate.”

Attorneys say the definition of “biological sex” lawmakers chose is “arbitrary.” They also argue that determining a child’s “biological sex” by using chromosomes, anatomy or their birth certification would violate privacy protections.

School personnel have no way to determine a child’s chromosomes, lawyers say, nor would they be allowed or qualified to inspect a student’s anatomy. In addition, the attorneys argue laws prevent school staff from accessing birth certificates unless they are determining a student’s eligibility for sports teams.

Finally, for adopted children, like Child Roe, state law prohibits schools from accessing a student’s original birth certificate at all, without a court order.

The parents of Roe say the birth certificate on file with the school says their transgender child is a girl, because it was a new birth certificate issued to her parents after she transitioned as a small child. Yet staff still barred her from using a girls restroom, according to the lawsuit.

Sex ed restrictions challenged

The class action lawsuit also alleges, on behalf of all Kentucky families, that new restrictions barring sex education in grades five and below harm students’ educational rights.

The attorneys say that under state Supreme Court precedent, the state is responsible for equipping students with “sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness.”

The plaintiffs say restrictions on classroom discussions around gender identity and human sexuality in all grades are a violation of free speech and freedom of thought protections in the Kentucky Constitution.

School system responds

In an emailed statement FCPS, spokesperson Dia Davidson-Smith said the district “know[s] that there are many questions surrounding the implementation of Senate Bill 150.”

“Fayette County Public Schools is committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all students, working in partnership with families, and following the requirements of state law.”

The lawsuit was filed on the same day a federal appeals court ruled to keep other provisions of SB 150 in place.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

News Youth Reporting
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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