Brief

Supreme Court rules that Madison Schools may allow students to choose their pronouns, for now

By: - July 9, 2022 12:13 pm
Rainbow LGBTQ heart on hands, Getty Images

Rainbow LGBTQ heart on hands, Getty Images

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a school policy which protects the right of students to use different names or pronouns at schools, without being outed to their parents, may remain in effect while a case involving its continuation moves through lower courts. While the policy’s ultimate future remains in question, the decision was a  relief to LGBTQ students and their advocates.

The policy, adopted by the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) in 2018, allowed  students to use different names or pronouns at school than the ones they used at home without school officials having to inform their parents. Advocates saw the policy as a way to provide a safe place within the school for LGBTQ youth, whose families might not be supportive. It’s not unheard of for LGBTQ youth to face violence at home, or be kicked out of their homes altogether.

The school district’s policy attracted the attention of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). The right-wing organization filed a lawsuit against the policy in February 2020, arguing that students were being subjected to a “grand social experiment” which parents had the right to reject.

But Larry Dupuis, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin, says outing students to their parents is not safe. “If parents are told that their child is using a different name or different pronouns at school without getting consent from the student, it can destabilize the student’s lives and potentially put them in danger if they are raised in an environment that is hostile to LGBT+ people,” he said. Chris Donahoe, staff attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin, echoed the point.

“Young people have various reasons for delaying sharing aspects of their identities with their parents- — some are not ready, some may fear rejection, condemnation, or worse — whatever the reason may be, it should be respected,” said Donahoe. “The Court’s decisions today allows MMSD to continue to protect youth by allowing them to be who they are without fear of being outed against their will, providing them with the freedom and safety to explore their identity on their own terms.” The decision comes as  some Republican legislators and conservative groups work to identify and remove books from schools, many of them on LGBTQ topics.

Jon Davidson, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, praised the Supreme Court’s decision, noting that there have been  “attacks across the country against transgender students.”

“This is a small step in the right direction toward keeping all Wisconsin students protected, regardless of their gender identity,” Davidson said.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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