Family of eight-year-old girl sues over discriminatory Tennessee bathroom law

Under the law, trans students in Tennessee are not allowed to use the bathroom in alignment with their lived gender

Last week, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced that it is filing a lawsuit on behalf of an eight-year-old trans girl in Tennessee, challenging a law that prohibits trans students, faculty and staff in schools from using the bathrooms or locker rooms in alignment with their gender.

Under the Accommodations for All Children Act, passed and signed into law last year, parents, students and employees in public schools are allowed to sue for monetary damages for all “psychological, emotional and physical harm suffered” if schools allow trans people in communal locker rooms in alignment with their gender identity. Trans people who don’t want to use the facilities designated for their assigned sex at birth must use single-occupancy facilities—which advocates say can be stigmatizing or forcibly out trans people.

In an HRC press release, the girl’s mother said she’s “embarrassed” to live in a state that “refuses to see anything beyond [her] child’s gender.” 

“Years ago, I chose to move to Tennessee because it was known as ‘the volunteer state,’ whose citizens cared for their neighbours without hesitation—not a state that legalizes discrimination against helpless children,” she said. “She is a bright, friendly, funny, creative, enthusiastic little girl and is always the first kid to cheer you on if you are struggling. By filing this lawsuit, I am showing my volunteer spirit—because I’m fighting to not only affirm my child’s existence, but also the thousands of transgender and non-binary children who live in Tennessee.”

“These power-seeking politicians will not stop pandering to their base, even if it means controlling which restrooms an eight-year-old uses at school.”

The eight-year-old plaintiff, referred to as D.H. in the suit, began her social transition at age six, with the support of her parents. But peers and staff at school were less than supportive, despite the efforts of her parents to work with the school and make sure their daughter wasn’t misgendered or deadnamed in class. These were not successful, and D.H. was bullied and misgendered. In the wake of the passage of the School Facilities Law, she was prevented from using the girls’ restrooms, and made to use the school’s limited number of single-use restrooms—which according to the suit were frequently filthy, and which outed her to other students and staff who may not have known she was trans. 

The suit alleges that the law violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection, as well as Title IX, which bars discrimination “on the basis of sex”—which have both been recently reaffirmed at the federal level as they pertain to trans students. 

In a denial of certiorari in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board (which also concerned a trans student seeking bathroom access at school) last year, the Supreme Court left standing a federal circuit court decision that confirmed the rights of trans students under Equal Protection Clause and Title IX. And in June, in response to the onslaught of anti-trans legislation, President Biden proposed a set of changes to Title IX that would further secure the rights of trans students.


While a similar HRC lawsuit was filed against the same Tennessee law last year on behalf of two trans students, it was dropped after the plaintiffs moved out of state. HRC advocates hope the most recent lawsuit will draw attention to the lawmakers who are “using their authority to attack some of our nation’s most vulnerable.” 

“These power-seeking politicians will not stop pandering to their base, even if it means controlling which restrooms an eight-year-old uses at school,” said Cynthia Cheng-Wun Weaver, litigation director with the HRC, in a press release. “We should all be inspired by D.H.’s strength and determination to fight for the right to be who she is. She, and all transgender and non-binary children in Tennessee, deserve to be affirmed and encouraged to be who they are, in all aspects of their lives.”

The bathroom law is one of several laws targeting trans Tennesseeans enacted last year, including multiple bills aimed at prohibiting trans girls and women from participating on girls’ and women’s sports teams, and one that allows parents to opt their children out of schooling on LGBTQ2S+ topics. The state also enacted another bathroom law, which required businesses that allow trans people to use the restroom in alignment with their gender identity to display a sign informing the public of the policy. However, the law was struck down earlier this year. 

Oliver Haug

Contributing editor Oliver Haug (they/them) is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area, California. Their work focuses on LGBTQ2S+ issues and sexual politics, and has appeared in Bitch, them, Ms and elsewhere.

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