National Review | October 04, 2023
Original article can be viewed HERE

A Wisconsin judge ruled this week that a Milwaukee-area school district cannot engage in the social gender transitioning of its students without the consent of their parents, a key victory in the legal fight over parental rights in schools.

In a ruling on Tuesday, Circuit Judge Michael P. Maxwell in Waukesha County said that when children are questioning their gender identity, it is “undisputedly a medical and healthcare issue.” The judge prohibited the Kettle Moraine School District, west of Milwaukee, from “allowing or requiring staff to refer to students using a name or pronouns at odds with the student’s biological sex, while at school, without express parental consent.”

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in November 2021 by the parents of a former middle-school student who had been struggling with her gender identity. District leaders refused the parents’ request to continue referring to their daughter as a girl and by her real name.

The district argued that parents do not have a fundamental right to control how a school educates their child. But the judge agreed with the plaintiffs and two medical experts who argued that the issue was about medical treatment, not education.

“Of particular importance to note is that both doctors agree that living a ‘double life’ where a child’s gender roles are different at home and at school is ‘inherently psychologically unhealthy’ and can undermine existing support structures for that child,” Maxwell wrote in his ruling, granting summary judgement for the plaintiffs.

The ruling is a “major win” for parental rights, and the first of its kind brought by parents to win on the merits, said Luke Berg, a lawyer with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which filed the lawsuit with Alliance Defending Freedom. “Our hope is that this will be the first of many, and we’ll start to see a lot more wins and see the tide beginning to shift on some of these policies around the country,” Berg said.

Stephen Plum, the Kettle Moraine superintendent, said in a prepared statement that the district “will continue to work with all students, parents, guardians, and staff to clarify expectations. We respect the rights of parents and continue to require written parental consent if and when using a student’s name or pronouns at odds with the student’s sex at birth.”

Tammy Fournier, whose now-14-year-old daughter Autumn was at the center of the case, said she was “grateful that the judge sided with me on this.” National Review first wrote about the Fourniers’ case in April 2022, though Tammy Fournier was identified by a pseudonym.

It was in mid-December 2020 that Autumn, who had a history of anxiety and depression, went into her parents’ room one night and told her mom that she no longer felt like a girl. The next morning, Fournier secured a bed for her daughter at a mental-health facility. The staff at the facility immediately began referring to Autumn as a boy, urged Fournier and her husband to do the same, and recommended putting her on medication.

Fournier questioned how deeply the facility’s therapists had really dug into her daughter’s mental-health troubles. Fournier put her foot down, refusing to identify her daughter as a boy until a mental-health expert really took the time to explore her issues.

Along the way, Fournier kept in contact with the leaders of her daughter’s middle school. A couple of days before Autumn was scheduled to return to school, she called a school counselor to set expectations: she expected the school to refer to Autumn by her birth name and as a girl.

The school’s principal later told her that they would not abide by her expectations. If Autumn wanted to be referred to as a boy and with a boy’s name, they would do that, instead.

The Fourniers never sent Autumn back to the school. Autumn no longer identifies as a boy.

Autumn told National Review that she’s doing well and is on an “upward slope.” She said that initially she “wasn’t really happy” about her mom’s efforts to fight the school district’s policies.

“But now I’m really involved, and I like being involved. I just like to stand up for what is right, and I believe this is right,” she said, acknowledging that it can be “kind of scary at times.”

Fournier previously said that her relationship with her daughter was strained while her daughter was struggling with her gender identity. She said staff at the mental-health facility had told Autumn that her mom would be “her biggest adversary.” Both Fournier and Autumn say that their relationship is “great” now.

“I mean, my mom is like my best friend now, so that’s pretty good,” Autumn said.

“As hard as it was, I think that it taught us to openly discuss things as a family,” Fournier said. “It helped really grow trust in one another.”

After their bad experience at the mental-health facility, the Fourniers found Autumn a new therapist who wasn’t invested in gender-affirming care. Autumn is no longer in therapy, though “that option is always on the table if she wants it,” Tammy Fournier said.

She said it would be an understatement to say that the experience with her daughter was scary.

“I believe children in this place really believe that they were born in the wrong body. That’s what they are being told. They’re finding content to support that,” she said. “It’s a very scary place for a parent to be in, because it’s not anything we had to deal with as children, or even in our adulthood.”

“Trying to figure out the best course of action, it almost paralyzes you, because you don’t want to make the wrong choice,” Fournier said.

When asked if she was enjoying her freshman year of high school in another school district, Autumn was frank: “I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it. It’s school.” But she said the school has a lot of theater and music options, which she enjoys, and she’s looking forward to studying forensics.

Fournier said she is hesitant about providing blanket advice to parents around the country dealing with similar issues because she knows some other states take a heavier-handed approach against parents who don’t immediately accept their child’s transgender identity.