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Lawsuit filed against Minnesota school district over treatment of transgender teen

Updated: November 22, 2019 10:37 PM

The family of a transgender teen is suing a Minnesota school district for discrimination. The Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose District is accused of mistreating the teen from 2015 to 2017.

“What happened to Matthew was devastating,” said Helene Woods, his mother.

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She pulled him from Buffalo Community Middle School in February 2017.

She said this discrimination severely affected his mental health. Woods told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he was hospitalized several times.

“Matthew suffered immensely,” she said. “There were times when I was not convinced that he was going to live through this, it was very, very bad.”

Matthew Woods is now 16 years old and in 10th grade.

He came out as transgender at 11 years old while in sixth grade.

He told us that most teachers adopted his new name and pronouns. For more than a year, however, he said he was denied access to the boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms. 

In a lawsuit filed on Thursday, Matthew Woods claims he was eventually prohibited from using the girls’ facilities as well.

He said a gender-neutral bathroom was opened at the school but it was often locked.

“If you don’t let someone transition, then it can make their life and their happiness just go straight downhill,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, the treatment led to feelings of shame, anxiety and stress, and thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

“A lot of times, I would have to go all the way across the school to the nurse’s office bathroom if I needed to use the bathroom,” he said.

He was given a bathroom to change in for gym but he had to transport his clothes to and from his school locker, according to the lawsuit. It said, the district "ultimately removed him from his physical education class entirely.”

“It was uncomfortable,” said Matthew Woods. “I was singled out, I wasn’t able to use the bathroom a lot of times. It was very difficult.”

Gender Justice, a law firm representing the family, shared documents with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. They show the Minnesota Dept. of Human Rights found probable cause there was discrimination.

“We had doctors notes, letters sent to the Department of Education became involved and they just refused,” said Helene Woods. “There are hundreds of kids out there just like Matthew and we want to make sure every kid is safe.”

On Dec. 7, 2016, “… superintendent informed Ms. Woods that her son could start using the boys’ restrooms immediately,” according to the lawsuit.

It said by February, however, he still wasn’t allowed to use the boys’ locker room. Helene Woods moved him to a private school.

Matthew Woods is now at Monticello High School. He plans to pursue a career as a cartoon artist.

He hopes this lawsuit will help his former district, and others, change their policies.

“People should be allowed to express their gender identity with total freedom,” he said.

The district would not do an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Superintendent Scott Thielman sent a statement, which reads, “The School District denies the allegations in the complaint.  The District respects the rights of all students and plans to vigorously defend against the lawsuit.  The District will not comment further on pending litigation.”
 

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