Alliance Defending Freedom Targets Colorado Trans School Trip Policy | Westword

Trans Student Bed-Sharing on School Trip Brings Gay Marriage Law Adversary to Colorado

An eleven-year-old girl from Jefferson County was allegedly assigned to share a room and a bed with a transgender student without her parents' knowledge.
Alliance Defending Freedom has become a leader in the conservative movement against transgender rights.
Alliance Defending Freedom has become a leader in the conservative movement against transgender rights. Karollyne Videira Hubert/Unsplash
Share this:
The legal team behind landmark cases for wedding vendors who refuse services to same-sex couples has set its sights on a new topic in Colorado: transgender student accommodations within Jefferson County Public Schools.

The Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to the school district on December 4 on behalf of two Jeffco parents, arguing that its policy regarding transgender students on overnight trips is unconstitutional. The letter accuses the district of "hiding information from parents and lying to students."

The parents, Joe and Serena Wailes, claim their eleven-year-old daughter was assigned to share a room and a bed with a transgender girl during a school trip without their knowledge.

"Jefferson County Public Schools assigned a fifth-grade girl to sleep in the same bed with a fifth-grade boy who identifies as transgender without notifying the girl or her parents," ADF's letter says. "The girl only found out because the boy who identifies as transgender told her on the first night of the trip. It then took the girl and her parents multiple requests to get her moved to another room."

The Waileses' daughter — called D.W. in the letter — went on a cross-country overnight trip to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., last summer. During the trip, D.W. was assigned to share a room with three other students, including a transgender girl with whom D.W. was supposed to share a bed, the letter says. After the student told D.W. she was trans, D.W. and her mother asked a chaperone to change D.W.'s room.

They changed D.W.'s bed but kept her in the same room, the letter alleges, instructing D.W. not to tell the other students about why she wanted to switch beds and telling her to blame it on wanting to be closer to the air conditioner. When another roommate suggested the trans student switch to the bed near the air conditioner, too, D.W. and her mother complained again, and the trans student was moved to another room, with the chaperone telling the other students they needed to give a sick roommate more space, the letter says.

Jeffco Public Schools claims the student's "transgender status was not known" when room assignments were made by the private travel organization that organized the trip.

"Because the district was only recently informed, and the trip occurred outside of the school year and through a private travel organization, we are still determining facts," a district spokesperson says. "Our understanding is that as soon as their transgender identity was known, room assignments were adjusted."

Even if the incident was the result of an outside organization, Alliance Defending Freedom is going after the school district's transgender student policy at large.

For overnight activities, Jeffco evaluates the needs of transgender students on a case-by-case basis. But in most cases, transgender students should be roomed with other students who share their gender identity instead of their sex at birth, the policy reads. It states that "under no circumstance" should a transgender student be required to share a room with students of the opposite gender identity. This is intended to minimize stigmatization and maximize social integration of trans students, according to the policy.

Alliance Defending Freedom argues that the policy prioritizes trans students over other students. It says the district violated the privacy rights of D.W. and her parents by not informing them ahead of time that her roommate was transgender so they could request other accommodations without risking "social backlash" from other students.

“Every parent should have the information needed to make the best decision for their children," says senior counsel Kate Anderson in the ADF letter. "Schools should never hide information from parents, yet that’s exactly what JCPS officials did here. And that put the Waileses’ eleven-year-old daughter in a very challenging situation where she had to choose between sleeping in the same bed with a biological boy and advocating for her privacy in front of her teachers and peers."

The group goes on to ask Jeffco to clarify whether parents of students will be "informed of the sex of their children’s roommates on school-sponsored trips before the trip" and whether parents can opt out of allowing their children to room with other students based on gender identity instead of their sex at birth.

This could seemingly contradict the district's current policy regarding transgender student accommodations on overnight trips, which states: "Any alternative arrangement should be provided in a way that allows the student’s transgender status to be kept confidential."

The LGBTQ+ advocacy organization One Colorado says it is against any change in policy that would forcibly reveal a student's transgender status to others. "One Colorado does not support outing any student, especially transgender students," executive director Nadine Bridges tells Westword. "Not only would this make a student feel unnecessarily othered, but there are safety concerns to be considered. Transgender students are more likely to be abused by their families based on their gender identity alone. Students have a constitutional right not to have intimate details about their lives disclosed without their consent."

Alliance Defending Freedom has become a leader in the conservative movement against trans rights. The group has provided strategic and legal counsel to state lawmakers throughout the nation, particularly when pursuing laws to prohibit minors from transitioning.

In Colorado, the group is best known for fighting to let wedding vendors refuse service to gay couples. Alliance Defending Freedom defended Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Supreme Court in 2018 after the Colorado baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The group similarly represented the website designer 303 Creative earlier this year.

"Once again, we are witnessing the ADF targeting transgender students while capitalizing on the concerns of families who, rather than suing school districts, should be participating in open dialogues that foster compassion and understanding," Bridges says. "Transgender, non-binary, and gender-expansive students deserve respect and understanding that support their well-being, not the harmful rhetoric that fosters discrimination and exclusion. They should be allowed to go on trips like any other student without apprehension or anxiety."

Jefferson County Public Schools says it will respond to Alliance Defending Freedom's letter by December 18. Westword was unable to identify the transgender girl's family to ask for comment.

"Student safety is paramount, and partnership with families is a priority. We take this situation seriously," the district spokesperson says. "We are working with the private travel organization to learn more, and we anticipate a more detailed response." 
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Westword has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.