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Courts Deliver Two Victories for Trans Students

Drew Adams

Federal courts delivered a pair of victories to transgender students today.

A U.S. District Court in Florida ruled that a school district discriminated against a transgender boy by not allowing him to use the boys’ restroom, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District affirmed a previous decision upholding a Pennsylvania school district’s trans-inclusive restroom policy.

In the Florida case, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled that the St. John’s County School Board violated student Drew Adams’s right to equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It also ruled that the district violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education.

President Barack Obama’s administration had interpreted Title IX as requiring schools to provide trans students access to the restrooms and changing rooms of their choice, in addition to using their preferred names and pronouns. Donald Trump’s administration, interpreting the law more narrowly, withdrew the Obama-era guidance on this issue, but courts remain free to interpret the law as they see fit.

Adams had begun living openly as a boy in 2015 and used the boys’ restroom when he started his freshman year at Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., according to a press release from Lambda Legal, which represented him in the lawsuit. After a complaint came in from an anonymous party, the school forced him to use only gender-neutral restrooms, “which separated him from his peers and treated him as unfit to share communal facilities with others,” according to Lambda Legal. He and his mother, Erica Adams Kasper, filed suit last year.

The court ruled in his favor today. “The evidence is that Drew Adams poses no threat to the privacy or safety of any of his fellow students,” Judge Timothy J. Corrigan wrote in his decision. “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. When it comes to his use of the bathroom, the law requires that he be treated like any other boy.”

“I am so grateful that I can just focus on being a regular kid at school. 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, an honor student who will be a senior this fall, said in the press release. “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.”

In the Pennsylvania case, the Third Circuit affirmed but slightly revised a May ruling upholding the Boyertown Area School District’s policy of allowing trans students to use the restrooms and other facilities of their choice. A three-judge panel of the court had ruled in May that the policy did not interfere with students’ privacy and was in keeping with Title IX. Students represented by the anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom had sued to challenge the policy, and after the panel ruled, they asked for a rehearing by the full court.

Today, all 12 judges of the court again upheld the policy but issued an opinion that relied less on Title IX, reports The Pottstown Mercury, a Pennsylvania newspaper. Four judges, however, thought the revised ruling still dealt too much with Title IX.

Ria Tabacco Mar, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued in favor of the policy, said today's ruling still sends a “powerful message” for inclusion. “Four judges said the court should not have addressed the separate question of whether Boyertown’s practice is legally required by Title IX,” she said in a statement. “But they agreed that Boyertown’s local school board had the right to allow transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identity.”

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