In February 2020, several parents anonymously sued the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin state court. The parents claim that the school district’s guidance that seeks to provide support for transgender, non-binary, and gender-expansive students violates parental rights and religious freedom by allowing students to use names and pronouns at school different from those they were assigned at birth, without providing parental notification absent a student’s consent. The ACLU and ACLU of Wisconsin, with pro bono assistance from Quarles & Brady, intervened in the case on behalf of LGBTQ student groups at schools in the district to help defend the district’s guidance.
A group of psychologists filed an amicus brief in support of the district’s policy, stating that approximately one-third of transgender youth are rejected by their families after disclosing their identity. Youth rejected by their families face higher risks of verbal and physical abuse, homelessness, and suicide.
The trial court declined to allow the parents to sue without at least informing the court and counsel for the other parties to the lawsuit of their identities. The parents appealed that ruling and the intermediate appellate court affirmed the trial court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to hear their further appeal seeking to proceed anonymously. The parents are also asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to require the district, pending resolution of the case, to inform a student’s parents if a student requests to use a different name or pronouns than they were assigned at birth.
In July, 2022, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin allowed MMSD's policy to remain in effect while the case proceeded in the lower courts.
Then on November 23, 2022, the Dane County Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit in a victory for transgender students.
“The ACLU is pleased that the court has dismissed the case brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law Liberty and Alliance Defending Freedom seeking to impose their values on Madison Schools by forcing staff to out students who use different names and pronouns at school,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Wednesday’s ruling recognizes that this case was never about the religious or parental rights of the parents recruited to be plaintiffs by WILL and ADF. It was manufactured by those who play on fear and ignorance about gender identity and who would risk the safety of transgender students to advance their ideology. MMSD’s guidance protects the safety and emotional well-being of transgender and gender-expansive students by respecting their decision to not immediately share their use of different names or pronouns with parents who may be hostile toward the LGBTQ+ community. Given the disturbing rise in animosity and bigotry explicitly directed at transgender and other LGBTQIA+ youth, preserving MMSD’s guidance against forced outings is more vital than ever.”
Dupuis continued: “Students should be allowed to explore and disclose their identities on their own terms, in a setting, and in a way that is safe for them. Young people have various reasons for delaying sharing aspects of their identities with their parents – some are not ready yet, while others may reasonably fear rejection, being kicked out of their homes, or psychological or physical abuse, which occurs far too often.
The plaintiff has filed a notice of appeal.