Saturday, 23 August 2008

Not in My School: Doe v Yunits

Trina Harrington


I recently came across this article on the website of GLAD, the leading LGBT legal rights group in New England, USA. The article appealed to me, because my heart went out to Trina Harrington for what she had to go through, that as far as I am aware there has not yet been a case like this here, and last but not least- Trina's surname is the same as my lawfirm's!

Here is the inspirational article about Trina:


Katrina Harrington was in seventh grade at South Junior High in Brockton, Massachusetts when she started having trouble at school. Like most girls her age, Trina wore skirts and hair accessories, and started wearing makeup. But unlike other students, she was disciplined for how she dressed. By eighth grade Trina had to have her clothing approved every morning by the school’s principal; if he didn’t approve, he sent her home. Eventually, Trina stopped going to school altogether.

Trina’s family called GLAD’s InfoLine for help. GLAD’s 2000 case Doe v. Yunits (“Doe” because in court documents Trina was known only as “Pat Doe”) was the first reported decision in a case brought by a transgender student. In the decision, the Massachusetts Superior Court ruled that a middle school may not prohibit a transgender student from expressing her female gender identity.

The school argued that Trina violated its dress code prohibiting “distracting or disruptive” clothing. GLAD countered that the school excluded Trina on the basis of her sex: if she had been biologically female there would be no question that she could wear the clothing she wanted to wear.

The court in 2000 ruled that that transgender students need the same support and protection that other students need, and that “exposing children to diversity at an early age serves the important social goals of increasing their ability to tolerate differences” and teaches “respect for everyone’s unique personal experience.”

In February 2001, a trial court denied the school’s motions to dismiss Trina’s disability and due process claims. In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the court held that Massachusetts disability law, unlike federal law, does not exclude transgender people from its protections.

Hear Trina's story on itunes.

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