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Trans Student Wins Right to Use Locker Room at Florida High School

A transgender student has won the right to use the boys’ locker rooms at his Florida school after his case was settled in federal court this week.

A plaintiff referred to in case filings as “John Doe” brought a lawsuit against the Volusia County School Board in Central Florida after he claimed he was denied access to the appropriate facilities at his school. Although faculty and staff have been referring to the student by pronouns consistent with his gender identity since elementary school, he was barred from changing with the other male students before and after gym class.

In a lawsuit filed in January, the plaintiff’s lawyers claim that preventing him from using changing areas that match his sense of self violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded programs, while the 14th Amendment guarantees “the equal protection of the laws.”

The Volusia County School Board responded to the suit by claiming that it attempted to accommodate the student’s needs by offering him alternative changing areas, such as the nurse’s office or a single-stall facility. In many cases, these accommodations are located on a different floor or the other side of the school.

The plaintiff argued that these “inferior and separate facilities” served to single him out and alienate him from his peers.

The school district — located an hour’s drive from Orlando — announced its intention to settle the lawsuit last month, as the Daytona Beach News-Journal originally reported. Any financial restitution has not been publicly disclosed. But as a condition of the settlement, Volusia County Schools must “treat the student as male for all purposes including the use of communal boys restrooms and locker rooms.”

The settlement was approved by the federal court for the Middle District of Florida this week.

The student’s attorneys say the case is yet another example of courts siding with the right of transgender students to be treated with dignity and respect in their schools.

“This settlement is a victory for transgender youth and will promote their health, safety, and well-being,” claimed National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Transgender Youth Project Staff Attorney Asaf Orr in a statement. “We are pleased to see VCSB take these steps to do the right thing and allow our client to use the restroom and locker room consistent with his gender identity.”

“Thanks to this settlement, John can focus on his education rather than the daily stigma and discrimination of being separated from his peers,” added Lauren Valiente, co-counsel at Foley & Lardner LLP, in a press release.

While trans students have won a string of cases in states ranging from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, this is just one of a handful of favorable rulings in Florida over recent months. In July, Drew Adams won the right to use the boys’ bathroom at Nease High School in St. John’s County.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Corrigan affirmed that Adams “says he is a boy and has undergone extensive surgery to conform his body to his gender identity.”  

“Medical science says he is a boy; the State of Florida says so and the Florida High School Athletic Association says so,” Corrigan claimed in a highly favorable ruling. “[…] The evidence is that Drew Adams poses no threat to the privacy or safety of any of his fellow students. When it comes to his use of the bathroom, the law requires that he be treated like any other boy.”

As in John Doe’s case, the judge found that barring Adams from school bathrooms that most closely match his gender identity contravene both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.

But while the Volusia County student celebrated another victory for trans rights, he said he’s ready to be treated like every other teenager.

“I am relieved to see my school district do the right thing and make this change,” said Doe, who is entering his junior year, in a statement. “Now, I finally feel like I have the support I need to finish my last years in high school without worrying about being singled out.”

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