Minnesota Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Transgender Student in Locker Room Access Case

September 29, 2020 Updated: September 29, 2020

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that public schools in the state must allow students to use locker rooms that align with their gender identity, following a lawsuit filed on behalf of a transgender student.

According to the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in 2019, the transgender student identified as N.H. entered Coon Rapids High School in 2015 and was on the boys’ swim team. N.H. had used the boys’ locker room along with other team members for much of that season until the Anoka-Hennepin School District decided in early 2016 that the teen must use a separated “enhanced privacy” changing room.

The Appeals Court decision (pdf), which may be subject to further challenge at the Minnesota Supreme Court, said that the school district’s locker room policy violated the state constitution by denying the transgender student’s right to equal protection in an educational setting.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination “in the full utilization of or benefit from any educational services rendered,” Judge Peter Reyes wrote in the majority opinion. “Because schools provide locker rooms in connection with physical-education coursework and activities, locker rooms fall within the broadly described ‘services rendered’ by schools.”

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which joined in the lawsuit, applauded the decision.

“This decision means that schools are now safer and more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming students across Minnesota,” Human Rights Deputy Commissioner Irina Vaynerman said in a statement.

Judge Matthew E. Johnson disagreed with the majority. He argued in his dissent opinion that N.H.’s equal-protection claim is invalid because the teen, a designated female at birth but self-identified as male in 2015-2017, wasn’t “similarly situated in all relevant respects” to other biological boys on the team.

“The school district’s locker rooms were designed and built according to the long-standing tradition in which users are separated by sex,” Johnson wrote. “N.H. wanted to use a locker room that did not align with the sex he was assigned at birth but aligned with his gender identity. There was a lack of caselaw as to whether a transgender high school student has a right to use the locker room of his or her choice.”

Anoka-Hennepin Schools, the largest school district in the state, said in a statement that it is reviewing the decision and considering possible options, including an appeal.

“The district’s top priority is maintaining a learning environment that is safe, secure, and free from discrimination, and its decision will be guided by those values,” the statement read.