A new law passed earlier this year gives cisgender students the right to sue schools if they see a transgender person in the restroom.
Trigger warning: This story contains themes of transphobia and bullying that some readers may find distressing
A transgender teenager in Tennessee was left traumatized after he was viciously bullied by a group of boys. Tobi, a junior at Siegel High School, locked himself in the bathroom as they beat the door and tried to kick it down while shouting slurs at the trans boy. The school is refusing to punish the students for bullying and is blaming the boy. “I don’t understand why my son would be punished when he’s the victim of what to me is a hate crime,” said Sherri Yandle, the mother of Tobi Yandle, 16, reported LGBTQ Nation. The school cited a state law passed earlier this year stating that cisgender students have a right to sue schools if they encounter a transgender person in the restroom. The law also calls for the schools to provide an 'alternative' for transgender students, like letting them use the faculty’s facilities.
While the school pointed to the new law, Tobi had actually tried to use the faculty restroom but it was locked. This was further backed up by security footage of Tobi trying the single-person faculty restroom door. He then headed for the boy's restroom and entered the first stall he saw. A group of boys who saw him enter the restroom followed him in and chanted slurs at him. They then tried to beat and kick down the door. Afraid of being assaulted, Tobi put his feet on the toilet and his back against the door to stop them from opening the door. He had also texted a friend requesting help. Assistant Principal Lori Gober heard the noise and intervened, breaking up the mob.
“When finally somebody came in to clear out the bathroom, the assistant principal found Tobi in the bathroom stall, crying, scared to death,” his mother Sherri Yandle told the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. “I think the scenario going through Tobi’s head was they were going to physically harm him.” When Tobi's mother checked with the school, they refused to punish the bullies citing the law. The school had ignored the bullying and pointed out that Tobi was the one who broke the rules first by entering the boy's bathroom.
“She stated because of Governor Lee’s laws that the other students could sue the school if they didn’t like it that a transgender child [was] in the bathroom,” Yandle told News Channel 5. Yandle says the school should be punishing the bullies irrespective of whether Tobi broke the law because they threatened Tobi's safety. “I’d like to see these boys held accountable for what they did to my son, regardless of the reason,” said Tobi.
Rutherford County Schools addressed the law in the wake of the controversy, stating that the policy “allows students or employees to use private, single-stall bathrooms if needed and requested. The state of Tennessee also has enacted a new law concerning transgender students and bathroom use, and the school district is required to follow this law.” The law was put in effect to work around the inability to ban transgender students to use the bathrooms depending on how they identified themselves. Republican House member Jason Zachary was the one who introduced H.B. 1233. Tennessee has also passed other anti-LGBTQ laws this year, including a ban on transgender students participating in school sports.
Two parents have already filed lawsuits against the state to overturn the law. The lawsuit argues that it effectively denies transgender children educational opportunities, violating Title IX, which bans discrimination in education, as well as the Equal Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution. The suit also points to Joe Biden's executive order that states that Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination also bans discrimination against LGBTQ people because it’s impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity without taking sex into account.
Yandle hit out at the school for not taking action against the bullies. “They are not supposed to let any child be bullied, and all children are supposed to be safe when they go to school and in that instance, I feel like this school failed,” said Yandle.
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