The pep rally was underway as a South Carolina high school student headed to the bathroom.A teacher trailed him. The student is transgender, and she wanted to make sure he used "the right one," he said.
To him, the right one is the boys' bathroom, which he says he has used since seventh grade without incident. Then, in his senior year, school administrators told him he had to use the girls' restroom, he said. They also gave him the option to use the nurse's restroom.
When he exited the bathroom, the teacher did not say anything to him, but he knew from the "exasperated" look on her face that he was in trouble.
The next morning, he was called into the vice principal's office and told he was suspended for one day for using the boys' bathroom.
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"I started having a panic attack," he told CNN. "Teachers should never be following students to the bathroom unless they reek of cigarette smoke or alcohol."
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He asked to be identified as R. because, like many transgender people, he does not want to publicly identify as transgender. He simply wants to spend his days in the skin he feels comfortable in.
Instead of returning to school less than three months before graduation, he enrolled in online classes for fear of being "outed." Now, he's threatening legal action against Horry County Schools to make sure other transgender students don't have to experience what he went through.
A case to test transgender rights
CNN could not independently confirm the student's claims, which were laid out in a demand letter from the Oakland, California-based Transgender Law Center sent Thursday on R.'s behalf. It appears to be the first test of last week's appeals court decision that upheld transgender students' rights to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
In that case, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on April 19 in favor of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia teen who claimed that the Gloucester County School Board violated Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in schools, by preventing him from using boys' restrooms in school.The decision is binding on nine federal district courts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, meaning judges are compelled to follow it as precedent.
It remains to be seen how lower courts in the conservative circuit will interpret the decision. In addition to school policy, it could impact legislation such as North Carolina's controversial law prohibiting transgender people from using public restrooms for the gender they identify with.
The decision created an opportunity to show that similar school district policies within the circuit are just as unconstitutional as Gloucester's policy, said Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center.
Horry County Schools Superintendent Rick Maxey would not comment specifically on the allegations but said the district is working to create a "welcoming environment."
"The district maintains the privacy of all of its students," Maxey said in an email. "The district seeks to accommodate the individual needs of its transgender students in compliance with the law, including Title IX. We will continue our efforts to ensure a welcoming school environment for all students."
After R. was suspended in January, a representative for the schools told CNN affiliate WMBF that the district does not have a specific policy on bathroom use for transgender students. The representative said the district makes accommodations based on individual needs and schools.
The Transgender Law Center's letter asks the school district to remove the suspension from R.'s record. It also asks the district to give transgender students access to facilities that match their gender identity and to ensure that all school staff respect the gender identity of transgender students. If the school does not comply within a week, center officials might file a complaint with the Department of Education, which enforces Title IX. Another option is to file a lawsuit in federal court, similar to the Grimm case.