Douglas County school board members committed to transgender student policy despite pause
Despite not taking any action during a Tuesday meeting on a contentious policy that would block transgender students from certain locker rooms, bathrooms and sports teams, Douglas County School Board leaders say they are still committed to passing the policy — even amid threats of a lawsuit.
Last month, Douglas County School Board President Susan Jansen proposed creating a policy so “only students who are biologically female from birth can participate in girls’ sports, bathrooms or locker rooms and only students who are biologically male from birth can participate in boys sports, bathrooms or locker rooms.” Her proposal was seconded by Trustee Katherine Dickerson.
In a statement to the Nevada Globe, Jansen estimated that 0.3 percent of the roughly 5,000 Douglas County students identify as transgender, and at the meeting she said she’s heard those students use unisex restrooms.
The proposal drew about four dozen community members who came to speak in favor and against the policy. LGBTQ advocates, parents and teachers of transgender students in the district have said the policy is “dehumanizing” and worry it could have a chilling effect on students’ mental health and safety.
Douglas High School teacher Meghan Nield read a statement on behalf of students in the school’s Gay Straight Alliance club, who said they want “‘a school to be a safe place for everyone, not just those deemed ‘normal,’” and argued that “gender norms are being pushed onto us.”
“You do not have to agree with their identity, but you must afford them equal rights that we all expect. Otherwise, how are we going to move forward?” she asked.
The ACLU of Nevada has said it would pursue litigation if the board moves forward with this policy, and Executive Director Athar Haseebullah reiterated that warning in public comment at the Tuesday meeting.
“We will not, under any circumstance, permit you to discriminate against our transgender or gender-nonconforming students,” he said.
But Dickerson denied that the proposal is meant to target transgender individuals. Rather, she argued that the proposal is meant to protect female students inside restrooms and locker rooms and prevent female students from losing out on sports and scholarship opportunities.
“I have two gay siblings that I adore, a gay cousin. This is not about that,” she said. “This for me is about protecting girls.”
Ultimately, the school board voted to postpone the proposed policy until its next meeting in June to give the board time to tighten up the language ahead of expected legal challenges.
Research on whether transgender girls and women have an unfair advantage over cisgender female athletes whose gender identity corresponds with their sex assigned at birth is inconclusive because of a lack of scientific data.
During the meeting, board counsel Brian Condon cautioned trustees on how they move forward with the proposed policy, citing language from the state’s Equal Rights Amendment (incorporated into the Nevada Constitution by a statewide vote in 2022) that guarantees equal rights regardless “of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin.”
Condon said if the board wants its policy to hold up in court, it needs to meet a strict scrutiny test by being narrowly tailored and having a compelling state interest.
Jansen and other board members suggested reframing the policy to protect female students who are also a protected class under the Equal Rights Amendment in the Nevada Constitution as well as the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
“I consider this to be unsettled law,” she said. “So let's go back to the drawing table.”
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reinstate a West Virginia law that bans transgender students from participating in teams that are consistent with their gender identity.
The Biden administration also is proposing a change to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives funding from the federal government, that would make it illegal for public schools to broadly ban transgender students from their preferred sport teams. It would, however, allow some restrictions of transgender student athletes in cases with competitive high school or college sports programs.
Twenty-five GOP governors, including Gov. Joe Lombardo, have sent the Biden administration a letter opposing the change.
Other community members and Trustee Linda Gilkerson urged the board to drop the matter and leave the issue up to state and federal lawmakers to resolve, rather than put the district at risk of a potential lawsuit.
“We talked about wanting to give teacher raises, but this is going to take the money right out of our district if we get sued,” Gilkerson said.