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8-Year-Old Transgender Girl Sues Orange County Private School For Discrimination

Heritage Oak Private School. (Photo by Beth A. via Yelp)
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The family of Nikki Brar, an 8-year-old transgender girl, has sued her former Orange County private school for discrimination, alleging it caused unnecessary hardship and trauma for refusing to let her dress and identify as a girl while at school. The L.A. Times reports Brar decided to come forward publicly in the case (minors can choose to be anonymous) because she believes in "fighting on behalf of her right to an education without discrimination."

Nikki expressed her desire to fully identify as female in June 2016, right before turning seven. Her parents supported the decision, taking her to a therapist who specializes in gender and specifically seeking out Heritage Oak Private Education school in Yorba Linda because "[the] philosophy at Heritage Oak is to develop the whole child," according to the school's website. Nikki's parents informed the school of Nikki's transition as she started the school year, and their complaint against Heritage Oak claims its executive director, Phyllis Cygan, "deferred a decision" on whether to accomodate Nikki's transition. Later in the year, when Nikki chose to fully identify as a girl, the school "insisted that Nikki wear the boy’s uniform," and "said she would have access to a staff bathroom, but she couldn’t go to the bathroom used by her female classmates," according to the lawsuit.

Heritage Oak responded in a letter to O.C. Weekly, explaining how they wanted to take a slow and deliberate approach towards addressing Nikki's transition. "We believed it was extremely important to respond, not hastily, but with deliberate care, to decide when and how to inform and educate our entire elementary school community," the letter says. They claim to have "told the family we had decided to retain an outside consultant to assist us, and we were communicating with the family on a consistent basis to discuss potential experts and specific accommodations," but that Nikki's family felt the accommodations weren't adequate and chose to withdraw Nikki from the school.

The case specifically uses the Unruh Civil Rights Act as the basis for discrimination claims. The Act, which became California law in 1959, states:

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All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.

Mark Rosenbaum, the attorney who has taken on the case, told the Times that this is "the first [transgender rights] case to use a state anti-discrimination law as one of the grounds for relief." In the lawsuit, Rosenbaum and his colleagues describe Heritage Oak as a hypocritical institution, claiming they told Nikki's family that "the school is a 'conservative institution' that focuses on 'character education' and that allowing Nikki to transition there would 'create an imbalance in our environment.'"

Nikki withdrew from Heritage Oak in February and her mother began home-schooling her. She will attend a Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District public school starting this fall, which "has been affirming of her gender identity and has worked closely with her parents to ensure a safe and welcoming environment," according to O.C. Weekly.