School Pays Transgender Student $800,000 in Discrimination Case
By Mila Madison
Ash Whitaker won the $800,000 settlement nearly a year and a half after filing a legal suit against the Kenosha Unified School Board in 2016. In the court filing, Whitaker had claimed that school administrators would not let him use the boys’ restroom and decided that he “could only use the girls’ restrooms or a gender-neutral restroom in the school’s main office.” He stated he had already been using the boys’ restroom for 7-months prior to their decision without incident. The school’s assistant principal, Holly Graf, had refused to call him anything other than his birth name and told him he would face disciplinary action if he continued to use the boys’ facilities.
Whitaker also claimed that in March 2016, he was nominated to be on his prom court as prom king. School administrators told him he would be allowed to be a candidate, but only as a prom queen and not prom king. It was only after a MoveOn.org campaign and a sit in by 70 school students showing their support for Whitaker that the school allowed him to be a candidate as prom king.
In May 2016, he learned that school administrators had told guidance counselors to distribute green wristbands to transgender students “so that their use of the restrooms could be monitored more easily” and that he feared he would be forced to wear one.
The lawsuit ended in the settlement after the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Kenosha Unified School District had illegally singled Whitaker out for discrimination based on the fact that he is transgender. The district had appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but withdraw the appeal as a condition of the $800,000 settlement on Monday. The settlement is still subject to court approval, and it will be finalized this week.
“I am deeply relieved that this long, traumatic part of my life is finally over and I can focus on my future and simply being a college student,” said Whitaker in a statement through the Transgender Law Center, who represented him in the lawsuit. “Winning this case was so empowering and made me feel like I can actually do something to help other trans youth live authentically. My message to other trans kids is to respect themselves and accept themselves and love themselves. If someone’s telling you that you don’t deserve that, prove them wrong.”
Whitaker is now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and plans to major in biomedical engineering.