Transgender Students

Ryan was designated male at birth but felt from an early age that she was female. Ryan was an accomplished student who was often chosen to represent her school or to help lead field trips. With the support of her parents, Ryan began to express her female gender identity her sophomore year. Everything changed. Ryan was made to wash off her make-up while other students watched. She was prohibited from wearing her favorite sweatshirt because it was “too feminine.” Ryan was not to discuss her gender identity. Finally, Ryan grew so depressed, she dropped out of school. After the ACLU intervened on her behalf, Ryan’s school agreed to let her follow the girls’ dress code and use a private bathroom and locker room so Ryan was able to return to school. Now Ryan reports: “To be able to be who I really am makes it a lot easier to focus on being a student and feel hopeful about the future.”

Stand up for Your Rights!

If you are treated unequally or bullied at school because of your gender identity or expression, contact the ACLU of Illinois or the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.


Know Your Rights!

Under federal and Illinois laws, transgender youth are entitled to the same educational opportunities, anti-harassment protections, and expressive freedoms as other students.

Dress Codes. Schools must enforce their dress codes equally and equitably. Schools should permit transgender students to comply with the dress code that reflects their gender identity. Doe v. Yunits (2001) is a case recognizing that right.

Bathrooms and Locker Rooms. The obligation of schools to keep transgender students safe extends to bathrooms and locker rooms. A transgender student should be able to use the bathroom that reflects his or her gender identity (for example, a female transgender student should be able to use the girls’ bathroom). However, if the student prefers, the school could let him or her use a separate, single-occupant bathroom, such as a staff or nurse’s bathroom. A transgender student should not be required to use a single-occupant bathroom because other students object. Isolating transgender students may send a message that is is acceptable to discriminate against them. Schools also typically provide transgender students the choice to use a private place to dress for gym or athletics. See Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth: Recommendations for Schools.