LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- A transgender woman files suit against a Louisville nursing college. The lawsuit, filed Sept. 25 in Jefferson Circuit Court, alleges the Galen College of Nursing discriminated against Vanessa Gilliam for being transgender. The complaint also accuses the college of excluding Gilliam from using the women's restroom even though she identifies as a female.
"It took a lot for me to go back to school," said Gilliam. "I was really proud of myself … they took that from me."
Gilliam, a U.S. Army veteran and a single parent, said pursuing a nursing degree was just one piece of her new life. Shortly after she started classes at Galen, she began physically transitioning from a male to a female.
Gilliam said many of her classmates were very supportive and cheered on her decision to wear women's clothing. She remembered that, for the first time in her life, she felt confident showing off what she long knew to be her true self – but not everyone was receptive.
Gilliam said she was studying for a lab test when two Galen employees approached her and asked to talk to her in private.
"They said the reason that they brought me in there was because that I'm a man dressed like a woman," recalled Gilliam. "They talked to me about using the women's restroom and how they have to look out for everybody else and their safety."
Gilliam said she was humiliated -- so much so that the uncomfortable encounter made her question her own identity. She felt her newfound confidence suddenly fade away.
"I went from feeling really confident … to like, 'Oh my God, I'm a guy in heels,'" explained Gilliam. "Everybody deserves an education. I mean I've come a long way. From the military, to getting custody of my kids, to being a single parent. I'm not going to let somebody tear me down and I'm not going to let this tear me down."
Gilliam, who stopped attending Galen following the confrontation, is seeking reimbursement for her tuition and books, as well as damages for the emotional trauma she claims she endured during her transitional period.
"We filed a lawsuit against Galen because we tried to work something out with them but they had made Vanessa so uncomfortable that she wasn't comfortable going back and then we feel like they handled it badly," said Shannon Fauver, Gilliam's legal counsel.
Galen responded to WHAS11's request for comment on the lawsuit Sept. 25 with a statement saying, "Galen College of Nursing strives to create and maintain a respectful and safe campus climate for students, faculty, and staff. We have not yet received a copy of the suit, and are thus unable to comment further at this time."
Gilliam said she has struggled to find work since the incident. She's started a GoFundMe where she connects with supporters and shares more details on her personal struggle.