On Friday, a federal court in Florida ruled that it is unconstitutional for public schools to ban transgender students from using the bathroom that best matches their gender identity. In a 2-1 decision, the Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued the ruling on the basis that “a public school may not punish its students for gender nonconformity.”
This is a major victory for trans students, whose rights are increasingly under attack by a hostile administration. The case also challenges so-called “bathroom bills,” which seek to restrict trans peoples’ access to sex-segregated bathrooms.
The case centered around Drew Adams, a 19-year-old transmasculine former student of Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Flordia. Adams used the boys’ bathroom at Nease High School for years without issue until an anonymous complaint was made against him. After the report, Adams was told by the school board that he would have to use gender-neutral bathrooms.
Adams worked with Lambda Legal to sue the school board in June 2017. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville ruled in Adams’ favor in 2018, but the school board appealed the decision last year.
The judges upheld the lower court ruling and said that the school board had violated the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal rights, and Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education.
“The School Board’s bathroom policy, as applied to Mr. Adams, singled him out for different treatment because of his transgender status,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin in the decision. “A public school may not punish its students for gender nonconformity. Neither may a public school harm transgender students by establishing arbitrary, separate rules for their restroom use. The evidence at trial confirms that Mr. Adams suffered both these indignities.”
According to a press release issued by Lambda Legal, this was the first case to go to trial about a transgender student’s right to equal access to restrooms in the country.
In 2016, President Obama issued an order mandating that public schools allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that align with their gender. President Trump rescinded that order in 2017. Since taking office, President Trump has rolled back protections for trans people in health care, education, employment, public housing, and the criminal justice system.
The Eleventh Circuit ruling cited the recent Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that the protections against workplace sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Bostock confirmed that workplace discrimination against transgender people is contrary to law,” Judge Martin wrote. “Neither should this discrimination be tolerated in schools.”
Adams, who is now a student at the University of Central Florida, said that he’s happy to finally see justice prevail “after spending almost my entire career fighting for equal treatment.”
“High school is hard enough without having your school separate you from your peers and mark you as inferior,” Adams said. “I hope this decision helps save other transgender students from having to go through that painful and humiliating experience.”
Sources: CBS News 8/9/2020; The Washington Blade 8/8/2020; The Advocate 8/7/2020; Lambda Legal 8/7/2020