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Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Maryland Trans Student's Rights

Max Brennan
Max Brennan

Max Brennan had been barred from using the boys' locker room for gym class.

A transgender boy in Maryland has won the right to use the boys' restrooms and locker rooms at his school, and rights for all trans students in the state to use the facilities of their choice.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland made the ruling Monday in the case of Max Brennan, a student in the Talbot County Public Schools who was forced to use separate facilities. In M.A.B. v. Board of Education of Talbot County, the court ruled that trans students' access to their preferred restrooms and locker rooms is protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a U.S. law banning sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"M.A.B.'s claims come down to a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy," Judge George Russell III wrote in a 40-page opinion. "This Court finds that Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause provide M.A.B. grounds to do so."

Russell "stopped short Tuesday of issuing a preliminary injunction" against the school district's policy but also denied the district's request to dismiss the suit, the Washington Blade reports. Instead, he ordered attorneys for Brennan and the school district to come up with an agreement by September. Russell denied the preliminary injunction because Brennan isn't currently enrolled in physical education; the district has agreed to let him use the boys' restroom after initially forcing him to use a single-occupancy one, but has not allowed him to use the boys' locker room in P.E. He had to change in the single-use restroom, causing him to be late to P.E. class and having to out himself as transgender, resulting in stigma and humiliation, the judge noted.

He also rejected school administrators' argument that they had to protect other boys from seeing Brennan's genitals. "If defendants were concerned that children with different-looking anatomies were changing clothes in the locker room together, then it would seem that separate [locker rooms] also would be appropriate for pre-pubescent and post-pubescent children who do not look alike anatomically,'" Russell wrote. "But Defendants have not separated locker rooms in that manner."

Brennan's case was brought by Maryland LGBT group FreeState Justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union and its Maryland affiliate later joined the suit as co-counsels. "I am extremely happy with the court's decision, and think it is a great step in the right direction," Brennan said in a FreeState Justice press release. "I am hopeful that this case will not only help change policy for the better, but help the students who are bound to come after me."

Attorneys with Free State Justice and the ACLU likewise praised the decision in the release. "We hope this decision is a wake-up call for the Talbot County School Board," said Jennifer Kent, managing attorney with FreeState Justice. "School systems in Maryland should know the law and should be protecting students who are transgender from discrimination, not singling them out for separate and unequal treatment."

"Courts across the country have recognized that Title IX and the Constitution prohibit schools from singling out transgender students for different and discriminatory treatment," said Josh Block, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. "We will continue to fight on behalf of Max and other transgender students to ensure that these stigmatizing and harmful policies are a thing of the past."

Sasha Samberg-Champion, a civil rights attorney not involved in the case, told the Blade the decision "is everything that advocates could want."

"That Judge Russell did not also grant a preliminary injunction -- yet -- is likely a good thing," explained Samberg-Champion, an attorney with the D.C.-based Relman, Dane & Colfax. "A PI would be immediately appealable to the Fourth Circuit, and then potentially to the Supreme Court, which would consider the case at a very preliminary posture with a relatively undeveloped record. Instead, the parties have a few months to potentially resolve the situation without further litigation and, at worst, to better develop the factual record before Judge Russell hears a renewed motion in late summer or early fall."

The Blade sought comment from attorneys for the school system, but they didn't immediately respond.

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