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Two More Courts Uphold Rights of Trans Students in Bathroom Lawsuits

It’s quietly been a big week for transgender students.

Days after an Oregon court tossed out a lawsuit against a school district’s affirming bathroom policy, two more courts have upheld the rights of trans students to use locker rooms and other restroom facilities that align with their gender identity.  

On Thursday, 17-year-old Drew Adams won his right to use the boys’ bathroom at Nease High School outside of Jacksonville, FL. In a written opinion Judge Timothy Corrigan of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida claimed the “law requires that he be treated like any other boy.”

“When confronted with something affecting our children that is new, outside of our experience, and contrary to gender norms we thought we understood, it is natural that parents want to protect their children,” he wrote.

“But the evidence is that Drew Adams poses no threat to the privacy or safety of any of his fellow students,” Corrigan continued. “Rather, Drew Adams is just like every other student at Nease High School, a teenager coming of age in a complicated, uncertain and changing world.”

Adams came out as transgender during his freshman year at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach. After he began hormone therapy and started wearing masculine clothing at school, Adams started using the boys’ bathroom on campus. He did so successfully — and seemingly without incident — for six weeks until another student filed an anonymous complaint.

Administrators in the ‎St. Johns County School District claimed Adams would have the use the girls’ bathroom or a gender-neutral facility at school.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on Adam’s behalf challenging the policy, one which named the St. Johns County school board, District Superintendent Tim Forson, and Nease High School Principal Lisa Kunze as defendants.

During three days of oral arguments held in December, attorneys representing the district claimed Nease High School wasn’t required to allow Adams to use the male facilities under state law. According to the Movement Advancement Project, Florida is one of 29 states without statewide laws on the books mandating LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections in public accommodations.

Kunze additionally testified that she “does not consider [Adams] to be a boy,” as the Florida Times-Union originally reported.

Despite the lack of statewide protections for trans students, Corrigan ruled that prohibiting Adams from being affirmed by his gender identity violated the Equal Access Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment, as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The Trump administration has claimed that the three-decades-old law — which forbids bias on the basis of “sex” in schools — should not be interpreted as inclusive of gender identity discrimination. However, Corrigan noted in his written opinion that “courts around the country have recognized the right of transgender students to use the bathroom matching their gender identity.”

His commentary proved prescient, given that an appeals court in Pennsylvania upheld trans student rights on the very same day.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed an earlier decision to throw out a lawsuit challenging a Pennsylvania school district’s transgender-inclusive bathroom policy. Parents claimed the Boyertown Area School District’s guidelines violate their students’ rights to privacy and constitute sexual harassment.

But under testimony, cisgender students noted that they had the option to use a single-stall restroom if they felt uncomfortable with trans students in the locker room or bathroom.

Judges noted that the only people whose rights to privacy were being violated were the trans students targeted by the suit.

“Forcing transgender students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that do not match their gender identity is particularly harmful,” the court ruled on Thursday. “The result is that those students avoid going to the bathroom by fasting, dehydrating, or otherwise forcing themselves not to use the restroom throughout the day.’ This behavior can lead to medical problems and decreases in academic learning.”

Four conservative justices on the 12-member bench claimed, though, that the 3rd District overstepped its bounds by delving into Title IX issues. The judges — all of whom were tapped by Republican presidents — lobbied for an “appropriately limited rationale” that did not weigh in on federal civil rights laws.

The plaintiffs, who are being represented by the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom in court, have exactly two weeks to lobby the court to reissue its opinion in light of the dissenting views.

But as the ADF weighs further action over Title IX, advocates celebrated yet another victory in a series of wins for trans students.

“All 12 judges on the court agreed that Boyertown’s practice of allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity does not violate anyone’s privacy,” claimed ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Ria Tabacco Mar in a press release.

“Today’s opinion, like the opinion issued last month, sends a powerful message of support to transgender students, who all too often experience discrimination, harassment, and violence because of their gender identity,” she continued. “The court found that the school board had a compelling interest in protecting transgender students from these harms and promoting inclusion.”

Meanwhile, the trans students at the center of these cases are happy that courts affirmed what all teenagers want: the right to be themselves.

“I have so many other things on my mind, like getting into my top college choice, so I don’t want to have to worry about whether I can use the boys’ restroom,” Adams claimed in a statement. “It was upsetting to think my school didn’t want me because I am transgender, and I hope no one else has to feel like that.”

Image via Getty


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.