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Trans student athlete to be paid settlement after suing school for discrimination

A transgender student from Minnesota just might be the catalyst for change in student athletics.

While a sophomore, Nick Hemley was banned from using the boys locker room at Coon Rapids High School in 2015. Even though Hemley was a member of the boy’s swim team and had been allowed to use the boys’ locker room for months before being banned, the school board decided to bar him and force him to use a separate facility, which led to him being bullied and receiving threats. 

The case gained national attention, especially after the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled last fall that trans students are entitled to use the locker room that matches their gender. Hemley sued the local Anoka-Hennepin School District, and this week the district has decided to offer Hemley a $300,000 settlement to drop the case. Along with the settlement, the district has agreed to ensure trans student athletes will be treated more equitably in the future.

“My goal was not to just improve my own situation, but to make a difference,” Hemley said in a statement. “I wanted the school district and the school board to understand that how they allowed me to be treated was wrong, and to hopefully make things better for the next generation of students – not just at Anoka-Hennepin, but across Minnesota.”

Himley was represented in court by the advocacy groups Gender Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“In short, the school district violated this teenage boy’s right to equal protection and due process under the Minnesota constitution,” said ACLU-MN Staff Attorney David McKinney.

“This discrimination led to bullying and threats against his family,” Gender Justice noted in a statement, resulting in “emotional distress and harm” for Nick and his family.

In addition to releasing the payment, the district issued a statement saying they were already implementing the steps and were “committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment for all students and families including transgender and gender-nonconforming students.”

This settlement comes at a time when the rights of transgender student athletes are being threatened all over the country. Just this week, the Tennessee House passed a bill which prohibits transgender student athletes from participating in athletics consistent with their gender identity. The legislation will next be sent to Tennessee Governor Lee for his signature. 

Hopefully, Nick Hemley’s win will be the turning point needed in the fight for transgender student athlete rights. 

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