Transgender Palatine student explains legal fight for locker room access

Updated Dec. 6 to reflect that the student was offered restricted access to the locker room but declined to accept it.

Nova Maday, a transgender student at Palatine High School, said Tuesday she hopes the state lawsuit she filed against Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 results in a policy allowing all transgender students of the district unrestricted access to the locker rooms of the gender they identify with.

Maday said the suit aims to avoid the compromise of transgender students having to change in private stalls within the locker rooms that was the result of a federal complaint filed by an anonymous student at District 211's Fremd High School in Palatine more than two years ago.

"We want full unrestricted access," Maday said. "The outcome of Student A's case was disappointing, in all honesty."

District 211 officials have disputed the grounds of Maday's lawsuit, saying the case has already been dismissed by the Illinois Department of Human Rights on the basis of a lack of evidence of discrimination.

Maday, though born male, said she's known she was female as long as she can remember. She came out and transitioned to presenting herself as female just after starting high school, and she said being barred from unrestricted use of the locker room is the only truly negative experience she's had from being open about it.

She believes unrestricted use of the locker rooms by transgender students would be a nonissue among other students she's heard from. They've told her no one gets completely undressed or showers for gym class, but she admits she has no firsthand knowledge.

"I've never been allowed in the locker room so far," Maday said. "I can't speak about how it's used. Everybody is very modest about their body. ... I think if it were up to the students, we wouldn't even be having this discussion."

Though Maday speaks of not being allowed in the locker room, the lawsuit itself specifies that restricted use of the locker room in a private area was offered by the district but rejected by Maday and her mother on the basis that non-transgender girls don't have the same requirement.

Ed Yohnka - spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is representing Maday in the case - said California is a state where unrestricted access to locker rooms for transgender students is public policy. He said he knew of no difficulties in implementing that policy.

"Where people feel they need additional privacy, they seek it out," he said.

The ACLU is a co-defendant with District 211 in a federal lawsuit filed by a group called Students and Parents for Privacy that argues even the limited access to locker rooms that's been granted transgender students in the district goes too far.

Yohnka said Maday's lawsuit being filed with the state is a key difference. While the federal government establishes the lowest level of civil rights a citizen can expect, states can set their own standards higher.

Maday said she hopes her lawsuit can move through the courts quickly enough to benefit her before she graduates next June, but she'll be happy enough if it benefits others after her.

"I'm not doing it for me," she said. "I don't like the spotlight. ... One of the things I've learned is that not everyone can fight for themselves."

Maday's mother, Brenda Schweda, said that's one of the many things she's learned herself from her daughter's journey.

"If we can help one more child, it's worth it," Schweda said.

She said there was never any question of learning to understand and support her own child's life experience. But both mother and daughter found role models and guides for that experience just as they're now trying to help others at an earlier stage of the journey, Schweda said.

While Maday said she respects Student A's decision to remain anonymous throughout her legal fight, she believes there's a practical value in standing up and being heard herself.

"First and foremost, I'm just like every other girl," she said. "I'm really no different. ... It helps to bring the human element to it."

Yohnka agrees, saying that it's easier for people to criticize or despise a group or concept than it is an individual person who's simply trying to find her place in the world.

"I am awe-struck at the courage of it," Yohnka said of Maday's public quest to be treated equally.

District 211 officials say their goal is to work with every transgender student to accommodate their individual needs, while also defending their rights at the federal level through the Students and Parents for Privacy lawsuit.

But Yohnka criticized the district for claiming to have made every possible accommodation for transgender students while it's still stopping short of unrestricted access to the locker rooms.

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  Palatine High School student Nova Maday, a transgender girl, is suing District 211 for restricting her access to the girls locker room. Her main goal is to be treated as a girl in every regard at school. Mark Welsh/
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