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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Transphobic Bathroom Ban in Florida

Drew Adams
Drew Adams

The court was divided in a 7-4 vote. 


A federal appeals court has upheld a ban on transgender students at a Florida high school from using restrooms that fit their gender identity.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 7-4 that the St. Johns County school board didn't violate trans student's constitutional or federal civil rights by forcing them to use the restroom corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth, Reuters reports.

The case began after then-high schooler Drew Adams, who is a transgender man, sued the school district in 2017 after he was prohibited from using the boys' restroom while he was a student at Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

The school required Adams to either use the girls' or gender-neutral restrooms.

"This aberrant ruling contradicts the decisions of every other circuit to consider the question across the country. Transgender students deserve the same dignity and opportunity to thrive in school as all other students, and Lambda Legal's work will not be done until that is a lived reality for every student," Tara Borelli, senior counsel with Lambda Legal, which is representing Adams, said in a statement to several media outlets.

Tim Forson, St. Johns County Superintendent, supported the ruling, according to local news station WJXT.

"We are pleased with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal decision in the Drew Adams' case. The court's opinion was supported by sound legal reasoning and common sense," Forson said. "Under this decision, the district will be able to protect all students' rights."

Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote in the 50-page majority opinion that the policy "advances the important governmental objective of protecting students' privacy in school bathrooms," public radio station WJCT reports.

"The school board's bathroom policy is clearly related to -- indeed, is almost a mirror of -- its objective of protecting the privacy interests of students to use the bathroom away from the opposite sex and to shield their bodies from the opposite sex in the bathroom, which, like a locker room or shower facility, is one of the spaces in a school where such bodily exposure is most likely to occur," Lagoa wrote.

Chief Judge William Pryor and Judges Kevin Newsom, Elizabeth Branch, Britt Grant, Robert Luck, and Andrew Brasher, who were all appointed by Republican presidents, joined Lagoa in the majority, according to WJCT. Judges Jill Pryor, Charles Wilson, Adalberto Jordan, and Robin Rosenbaum, who were appointed by Democratic presidents, dissented.

Pryor wrote in her dissent, "To start, the majority opinion simply declares -- without any basis -- that a person's 'biological sex' is comprised solely of chromosomal structure and birth-assigned sex. "So, the majority opinion concludes, a person's gender identity has no bearing on this case about equal protection for a transgender boy. The majority opinion does so in disregard of the record evidence -- evidence the majority does not contest -- that gender identity is an immutable, biological component of a person's sex."

She added that Adams was forced "to endure a stigmatizing and humiliating walk of shame -- past the boys' bathrooms and into a single-stall 'gender neutral' bathroom."

In siding with the school district and the policy, Pryor wrote that the majority, "labels Adams as unfit for equal protection based on his transgender status."

WJCT notes that Wilson argued against one of Lagoa's assertions in the majority opinion.

Lagoa wrote, "The bathroom policy does not depend in any way on how students act or identify. The bathroom policy separates bathrooms based on biological sex, which is not a stereotype."

However, Wilson said that the "presumption that biological sex is accurately determinable at birth and that it is a static or permanent biological determination."

"In other words, the policy presumes it does not need to accept amended documentation because a student's sex does not change," Wilson wrote. "This presumption is both medically and scientifically flawed. After considering a more scientific and medical perspective on biological sex, it is clear that the bathroom policy's refusal to accept updated medical documentation is discriminatory on the basis of sex."

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