A Big Win For Trans Students In The 11th Circuit!
On Friday, the 11th Circuit issued an excellent decision in Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County, Florida, finding that schools violate students' civil and constitutional rights when they don't allow trans students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Because of this decision, trans students in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia will be able to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. It is a HUGE win for trans kids!
As the court held,
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. The record developed in the District Court shows that the School Board failed to honor Mr. Adams's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX.
This case is about a boy named Drew Adams. Drew and his family realized he was trans when he was in the eighth grade. He had already transitioned before he began attending Nease High School in St. Johns County, Florida.
Drew Adams was born in 2000. At birth, doctors examined Mr. Adams and recorded his sex as female. That female designation has vexed Mr. Adams throughout his young life. As Mr. Adams entered puberty, he suffered significant anxiety and depression about his developing body, and he sought the help of a therapist and a psychiatrist. In the eighth grade, after introspection and with the help of therapy, Mr. Adams came to realize he was transgender. He revealed to his parents that he was a boy, not a girl. Together, Mr. Adams and his family met with mental health professionals, who confirmed Adams was transgender. In time, Mr. Adams's psychiatrist diagnosed him with gender dysphoria, a condition of "debilitating distress and anxiety resulting from the incongruence between an individual's gender identity and birth-assigned sex." Mr. Adams's "gender identity"—his consistent, internal sense of gender—is male, but the sex assigned to him at birth was female.
As described by the court,
Drew Adams is a young man and recent graduate of Nease High School in Florida's St. Johns County School District. Mr. Adams is transgender, meaning when he was born, doctors assessed his sex and wrote "female" on his birth certificate, but today Mr. Adams knows "with every fiber of [his] being" that he is a boy.
For trans people, transitioning and living as who they really are is incredibly important.
Mr. Adams said transitioning led to "the happiest moments of my life," "finally figuring out who I was," and being "able to live with myself again."
For his first six weeks of ninth grade, Drew used the boys' bathroom. Then two anonymous girls who saw him enter the boys' room complained, because apparently they just really wanted to use the same bathroom as him. None of the boys Drew shared the bathroom with complained, but nonetheless, the school ordered him to stop using the boys' room.
While Mr. Adams attended Nease High School, school officials considered him a boy in all respects but one: he was forbidden to use the boys' restroom. Instead, Mr. Adams had the option of using the multi-stall girls' restrooms, which he found profoundly "insult[ing]." Or he could use a single-stall gender-neutral bathroom, which he found "isolati[ng]," "depress[ing]," "humiliating," and burdensome.
This made him feel
"alienated and humiliated" every time he "walk[ed] past the boys' restroom on his way to a gender-neutral bathroom, knowing every other boy is permitted to use it but him." Mr. Adams believed the bathroom policy sent "a message to other students who [saw Adams] use a 'special bathroom' that he is different."
It's important to remember just how vulnerable trans kids are. Studies have found that more than half of transgender adolescents have attempted suicide at least once. Trans kids routinely suffer from anxiety and depression, even without being ostracized by their schools. Transitioning and living fully in tune with their gender identity is an incredibly important step for transgender people.
Socially transitioning to using the men's restroom, Mr. Adams explained at trial, is "a statement to everyone around me that I am a boy. It's confirming my identity and confirming who I am, that I'm a boy. And it means a lot to me to be able to express who I am with such a simple action because . . . I'm just like every other boy."
The ultimate question in this case was whether the 14th Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The Fourteenth Amendment, of course, requires "equal protection under the law. And Title IX states that no student
shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance
the Constitution does not tolerate any form of gender stereotyping on the basis of one's birth sex and sexual organs
The court found that the school and school board "demonstrated no substantial relationship between excluding Mr. Adams from the communal boys' restrooms and protecting student privacy." This, the judges found, led to three "constitutional infirmities" with the policy.
First, the policy is administered arbitrarily. The policy relies upon a student's enrollment documents to determine sex assigned at birth. This targets some transgender students for bathroom restrictions but not others. Second, the School Board's privacy concerns about Mr. Adams's use of the boys' bathroom are merely hypothesized, with no support in the factual record. Third, the School District's bathroom policy subjects Mr. Adams to unfavorable treatment simply because he defies gender stereotypes as a transgender person.
The opinion also noted that
The School Board's bathroom policy singles out transgender students for differential treatment because they are transgener: "Transgender students will be given access to a gender-neutral restroom and will not be required to use the restroom corresponding to their biological sex." The policy emphasized the School Board's position that no law required it to "allow a transgender student access to the restroom corresponding to their consistently asserted gender identity."
Drew has updated his driver's license and birth certificate, which now reflect who he really is. In every respect, he is a boy. Legally, he is a boy. But St. Johns County School District decided that it should treat him differently from other boys simply because he's trans. This, the court ruled, is an illegal reliance on sex stereotypes.
[T]the School District's bathroom policy labels Mr. Adams as a "girl" solely because of the gender assigned to him at birth based on his sexual organs. The policy advances gender stereotypes by deeming Mr. Adams "truly" female, even though he produced legal and medical documentation showing he was male.
The dissent, unfortunately, is a disgusting spew of bigotry. In it, 11th Circuit Chief Judge William Pryor rants for 28 pages about the "importance" of discriminating against trans students, saying repeatedly that "sex" is based on biology and not gender identity. We're going to refrain from quoting it here. Transphobes already have more than enough places to spew their hatred.
But the decision and the dissent dissent act as a reminder of just how important federal judicial appointments are, even when the Republican nominee isn't the absolute horror show that is Donald Trump. The two judges in the majority, Judges Beverly Martin and Jill Pryor, were Obama appointees. Judge William Pryor is a W. appointee. (And no, the two Pryors are not related.)
This case could be a preface to a battle in front of the Supreme Court. So far, the 11th Circuit, Sixth Circuit, and Seventh Circuit are the only federal appellate courts to consider this issue. They, and most of the federal district courts who have ruled in similar cases, have found that unequal treatment of trans kids is a constitutional and civil rights violation.
The court also relies on the recent Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which found that discrimination against people because they are transgender is illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In Bostock, Neil Gorsuch joined the court's libs to declare that discrimination against trans people because they are trans is, quite literally, sex discrimination. When a person is treated differently solely because they are transgender, what else can it be but discrimination on the basis of sex?
So if this does end up before SCOTUS, hopefully Neil Gorsuch, textualist, will stay consistent in his thinking!
At the end of the day, this is a great decision that will help better the daily lives of trans kids throughout Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, three states where discrimination against trans students is ubiquitous.
Drew was represented in this case by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. which does amazing work on behalf of LGBTQ people all around the country.
A big congrats to Lambda Legal, Drew Adams, and all trans kids who are fighting this fight!
Here's the opinion!
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