A 17-year-old transgender student in Frederick County, Md., filed a motion in federal court on Oct. 20, to defend the county school board against a lawsuit seeking to overturn the board’s sweeping policy of protecting trans students from discrimination and harassment at school.
James van Kuilenburg, an honor student at Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, filed his motion to intervene in the case as a defendant with the aim of presenting a separate legal argument for why the lawsuit lacks merit and should be dismissed by the U.S. District Court of Maryland, according to team of attorneys representing him.
“The Frederick County School Board did the right thing – they created policies that affirm and respect their students’ gender identity,” said Jennifer Kent, Managing Attorney for FreeState Justice, a Maryland-based LGBT litigation group representing van Kuilenburg.
“We intend to vigorously defend these polices in the interest of our client and affected students in Frederick County Public Schools,” Kent said in a statement.
Also representing van Kuilenburg in the case are attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union’s national office, the ACLU of Maryland, and the D.C. law firm Nixon Peabody.
The Frederick School Board adopted its transgender nondiscrimination policy in June, with widespread support from the community, according to LGBT activists. Among other things, the policy allows transgender and gender nonconforming students to use school bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity.
The policy also requires schools to provide separate bathroom and locker room facilities for any student that may feel uncomfortable using such a facility where a transgender student may be present.
With legal representation from an attorney known to be aligned with anti-LGBT groups, a cisgender female student and her mother anonymously filed the lawsuit seeking to overturn the policy on grounds that it violates students’ privacy rights. The lawsuit specifically targets provisions in the school policy that LGBT advocates say protect trans students against harassment and bullying and offers trans students confidentiality should they not wish to be open about their gender identity.
In a statement released by FreeState Justice, van Kuilenburg said the school nondiscrimination policy “gave me the ability to finally be myself and access all parts of my education.” He said reversing the policy would be devastating to him and other transgender students.
“There is an epidemic of trans students feeling unsafe, depressed, and suicidal,” he says in the statement. A removal of the policy would “create a culture of fear and misunderstanding,” he said.
The filing by van Kuilenburg of his motion to intervene came on the same day that the Frederick School Board, through its own attorney, filed its official response to the lawsuit. The response, in the form of a motion to dismiss the case, challenges the lawsuit’s merits. It argues that the lawsuit fails to state a legal claim that the school policy violates any rights of the student and her mother who filed the suit.
Van Kuilenburg’s motion to intervene in the case also calls on the court to dismiss the case on grounds similar to those cited by the School Board’s motion.