By Erin Rook
A Vermont coach and his teen daughter are suing over their punishment for misgendering and harassing a trans student-athlete.
The anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom has characterized the lawsuit as a “free speech” issue and argues that the pair were punished for expressing their views on a matter of profound public concern.”
“In objecting to a male being in the room while the girls are changing, Travis and Blake [Allen] each made comments underscoring that the trans-identifying student is in fact a male, including by using male pronouns,” ADF writes in the lawsuit. “Indeed, their view of the student’s maleness was foundational to their opinions on appropriate use of the locker room.”
The incident appears to have been sparked when some cisgender girls objected to the presence 0f a transgender girl in the locker room. Student Blake Allen and her father Travis were reprimanded for comments they made about the transgender student following the locker room confrontation.
According to the conservative Washington Times, Blake raised the issue in class the next day, saying that the transgender student “literally is a dude” and that “he doesn’t belong in the girls’ locker room.” Following an investigation, the school found Blake “guilty of harassment and bullying” based on gender identity.
In an effort to help her “understand both the rights of students to access public accommodations such as schools in a manner consistent with their gender identity and the impact of her behavior,” the school asked Blake to write a reflective essay and either serve a two-day suspension or participate in a “restorative circle.”
Blake’s father Travis was suspended without pay from his job coaching middle school soccer after an online exchange with the parent of the transgender student, in which he misgendered the student and accused her of voyeurism.
“[T]he truth is your son watched my daughter and multiple other girls change in the locker room. While he got a free show, they got violated,” Travis wrote in a post on a local news station’s page. “[Y]ou think this is fine and dandy, I wonder how you would feel if I watched you undress?”
The mother of the transgender student told Vermont weekly Seven Days that her daughter was the one being harassed in the locker room. And that mistreatment spilled over to the hallways and eventually local and national media.
Even Caitlin Jenner – a trans former athlete who opposes trans youth participation in sports – chimed in.
“In 2022, it’s not that unfamiliar that this kind of thing is happening, especially amidst the current hostile climate,” Outright Vermont executive director Dana Kaplan told Seven Days. “Ultimately, kids are trying to be kids. They’re trying to go to school. They’re trying to play sports. They’re trying to go to the bathroom. They’re trying to get changed.
“They’re going about their lives, and it’s the discomfort of outer circles of people — oftentimes politically motivated — that ultimately gets in the way and turns this into something … much bigger than any young person should have to navigate in their day-to-day life.”
The school district remains supportive of transgender students and has said it expects to prevail in the lawsuit.
“RUHS and Orange Southwest Unified Union School District are proud to support our trans students and to enforce our legally mandated policies,” the district said in a statement. “The plaintiffs apparently argue that demeaning behaviors, ridicule, and unkindness directed at RUHS students are protected free speech. We disagree.”