May 25, 2018
If you think it’s tough speaking up as an adult in today’s culture, try being a kid. Christian teenagers are swimming against a strong tide these days, but that hasn’t stopped Alexis Lightcap. The Boyertown student wants every classmate to feel safe -- even if it means fighting school leaders to guarantee it.
Going to the bathroom at school shouldn’t be a life-changing experience – but that’s exactly what it became for Alexis the day she walked into girls’ restroom and saw a man’s face in the mirror. “My body went into immediate shock,” Lightcap writes in her new op-ed. “My first thought was to get out.” So she did. She raced down the hall to a teacher and didn’t look back.
“The teacher told me to tell the principal, so I did. And the principal did nothing.” Instead of listening to her concerns she said, “they made me feel like I was the problem for feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, and vulnerable with a boy in the bathroom.” Alexis couldn’t believe it. Neither could her parents -- who, like most Boyertown families -- had no idea the policy was in effect. The Lightcaps’ attorney, Alliance Defending Freedom’s Christiana Holcomb, explained that the only ones that did seem to know were a couple of students who identified as the opposite sex.
“It felt like a specific group of people were protected while the rest of the population was not,” Alexis said. And thinking about her little sister having the same experience made her realize: if the school didn’t care, she had to make them. “You have a say in this world, and you need to speak up,” she remembered her adoptive parents telling her. “In that moment, I knew I had to do something.”
That “something” was joining a high-profile lawsuit against the school. Months earlier, a male classmate – known only as Joel Doe -- had taken Boyertown to court. He was just as horrified as Alexis had been when he walked into the boys’ locker room and saw a biological girl in a sports bra and shorts. The administrator he talked to told him to “tolerate it” -- to “make it as natural as possible.” Did they really think everyone would enjoy the surprise and just embrace this idea, Alexis asked? “No one prepared us, warned us, counseled us,” she wrote.
According to the people on the blogs and at the microphones, those of us who object to finding ourselves in private spaces with people of the opposite sex must be bigots, or religious extremists, to deny our peers who identify with the opposite sex their choice of restroom. I guess it’s always easier to label people than to think about where they’re coming from.
Alexis could have fought the policy anonymously. Instead, she decided, “I have a chance to speak up. I’m a representative for all those people who don’t have a voice.” No other girl, she vowed, should have to go through what she did. “It’s common sense that boys shouldn’t be in girls’ locker rooms, restrooms, and shower areas. Every student matters and schools should put our privacy, safety, and dignity first.”
Unfortunately for Alexis and the other 1,649 kids in Berks County, the courts don’t agree. This week, her case with Joel Doe made it all the way to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, where, to everyone’s amazement, a three-judge panel ruled unanimously that Alexis and Joel didn’t prove that school was infringing on their “bodily privacy.” In an unusual move -- rare enough that every newspaper covering the story seemed to notice -- the court took less than an hour to rule. A stunned ACLU attorney on the other side told reporters, “We were not expecting a decision when we walked in the door today.”
Thanks to our friends at ADF, it may not be the last one. Although Alexis and her co-plaintiff are weighing their options, odds are the group will appeal to the full Third Circuit court. “The school administrators failed her,” Holcomb said. “She reported her concerns. She brought it to the adults in the room -- the adults who should have been protecting her -- and they ignored her.” One of the biggest problems in districts like Boyertown, she explains, “is that the policies are tailored to a small group of students at the expense of every other student at the school.” What families want are policies that protect everyone’s privacy, everyone’s dignity.
Meanwhile, if you want to know why President Trump’s judicial confirmations matter, kids like Alexis are exhibit A. Back in November of last year, the Senate sent reinforcements to the Third Circuit in the form of Judge Stephanos Bibas, the first White House pick to fill a vacancy on that bench. Two more are waiting in the wings -- Paul Matey and David Porter, both strict constructionists who are waiting for their turn on the fast track of Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) committee. Once they make it through the process (which, given the lightning-quick pace of this Senate’s confirmations, could be any day) maybe they can help inject some common sense into Alexis’s case.
In the meantime, we applaud ADF and these courageous students, who may be half the school administration’s age, but they sure have twice the wisdom!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.