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Transgender former student sues Huntsville City Schools

Chip Brownlee

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A former student who is transgender sued Huntsville City Schools last week.

The lawsuit filed in federal court by Zelda Menefee alleges the school district failed to act when she was harassed, physically assaulted and bullied because she was transgender, and that administrators ignored the actions.

Menefee, 19, said the bullying was so bad — and it came from both teachers and students — that she eventually dropped out of school in May 2016 and earned an equivalency diploma instead. She attended Grissom High School.

The lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Alabama alleges that Menefee was placed in boys’ PE courses, where the male students made fun of her clothes and harassed her. She reported at least two bullying instances to a teacher, but the teacher did nothing, according to the lawsuit.

She was eventually allowed to enroll in female PE courses, but she couldn’t dress in the girls’ locker room or have a locker with other girls in the class, the lawsuit states.

Menefee began transitioning from male to female in summer 2014, changing her first name, her identity documents and her dress to indicate a female gender. She was a freshman at Grissom in January 2015.

“Unfortunately, LGBTQ – and especially transgender – students face disproportionate levels of bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools,” said Sara Ann Macisaac, the Alabama field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign. “Yet, many school administrators remain woefully unprepared and unsupported to deal with the type of bias-based discrimination that occurs on a systemic level.”

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HRC Alabama says it’s important that school districts throughout the state have enumerated anti-bullying and nondiscrimination protections, and that staff and administrators know how to spot bullying, bias and harassment.

“At a time when the federal Department of Education continues to turn its back on transgender students, this in-state work remains crucial,” Macisaac said. “No student should ever encounter the discrimination described by Zelda Menefee.”

Menefee alleges administrators refused to investigate her claims of bullying, discrimination and assault and that she was specifically threatened for being transgender, punched and had food thrown at her during lunch.

A student even pulled her wig off in the hallway and assaulted her, and administrators did not act, according to the lawsuit.

Teachers bullied her too, refusing to allow her to use female restrooms, relegating her to a nurses restroom, and making her change out of female clothes like a knee-length skirt into athletic pants and t-shirts, the lawsuit alleges.

Both teachers and students refused to call her by her female name, told her she wasn’t a girl, and called her “sir,” she says in the complaint. She was pictured in the yearbook under her male name, and school officials canceled a beauty pageant because she asked to participate.

The lawsuit is demanding money damages for violations of her First Amendment rights, anti-discrimination guarantees and failed supervision by school staff.

 

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