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Transgender Palatine Student Fights For ‘Equal Access Just Like Every Other Girl’

Nova Maday said she wants to be treated like every other girl attending Palatine High School. That’s why the 18-year-old senior recently filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming she is being denied full access to the girls' locker room because she is transgender.

Officials at District 211 said Maday’s allegations misrepresent the accommodations she was offered.  

“District 211 has provided caring and responsive supports for transgender students for years, including transgender students who daily use bathrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity in multiple schools,” said district Superintendent Daniel Cates in a letter to parents.

District 211 has been in the national spotlight over locker room access for transgender students. In 2015, the federal government found the district violated a transgender student’s civil rights by denying her access to the locker room of her gender identity. 

The district allowed that student, known only as Student A, access to the locker room and she agreed to use a privacy stall to change. That decision sparked a lawsuit by a group of parents who claim the right to privacy of other students is being violated. That lawsuit is ongoing.

Maday spoke to WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton about how Student A’s story impacted her and her own experience at Palatine High School. Below are some interview highlights.

On coming out to teachers

Nova Maday: The email was short. I just wanted to get to the point of it. I titled it “Information About Me.” I told them I was trans and I explained to them what it was — that I identify as a different gender than I was assigned at birth. I told them I wanted to go by she/her pronouns and that my name was Nova. I sent it out, and pretty quickly, I got a really positive response from one of my teachers that said life was too short to not be who you want to be.

The day after was a really, really great day. All of them called me by the right pronouns and the right name, and it was a great experience of feeling accepted and feeling valued.

On Student A’s fight for locker room access

Maday: I was a high school sophomore when the news broke about it. I was hopeful because it was the realization that I’m not the only one fighting to get into the locker room [and] to have equal access just like every other girl. Even though I had no idea who this person was, it really did feel like we were fighting together for it.

It was this kind of hopeful moment that maybe we were going to get somewhere, maybe the district is going to do something great here. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get anywhere with that.

On school accommodations

Maday: The accommodations they gave me was the nurse’s office. It was separate, it was not equal, and it was humiliating to have to change away from everybody else. And I would miss out on critical information. All the girls in the locker room were told where they would meet for class for the day. But because I wasn’t there, I’d miss out on this information and be forced to wander around 10 different places where our class could be meeting.

The school had offered a private, personal locker room, which was near to the gym, but still separate. I tried using that, but I go in one day and find that the locker that my clothes were in had been removed during renovations. So, through this long, exhaustive process, I find that the locker is out on a loading dock. It was super emotionally traumatizing going around looking for my things, missing half of class that I was still required to do but couldn’t. I moved back to the nurse’s office after that.

On her senior year

Maday: Junior year, we had a meeting with district and school officials. We wanted locker room access and for me to take a gym class, but they said I couldn’t have access. It was going to be either the nurse’s office, which was humiliating and separate, or a class waiver. I took the waiver because it was the only option I could take.

Senior year started out with me enrolling in gym class, hoping that maybe I could get locker room access, but officials again said I couldn’t get access unless I changed behind a separate changing area. Other girls aren’t required to change in a separate, private area, so why should I? I’m no different than them. Every other girl in the school is required to take gym, but I have this special exemption that keeps me away from it.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

This story was updated to clarify that Nova Maday claims she is being denied full access to the girls' locker room at Palatine High School and to note that another transgender student, Student A, had agreed to use a privacy stall to change in the girls' locker room in the same school district.

Linda Lutton covers education for WBEZ. You can follow her at @WBEZeducation.

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