A transgender student’s fight over school bathrooms came before a federal appeals court Thursday, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard arguments about whether a Florida school district should be ordered to allow students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
Drew Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, won a lower court ruling last year ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys’ restroom. The district has appealed, arguing that although it will permit transgender students to use single-occupancy, gender-neutral restrooms, it shouldn’t be forced to let students use the restroom of the gender they identify with.
The 11th Circuit could become the first federal appeals court to issue a binding ruling on the issue, which has arisen in several states. The ruling would cover schools in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and could carry the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 4th Circuit had ruled in favor of a Virginia student, but the Supreme Court sent the case back down for further consideration. That’s because the U.S. Department of Education, under President Donald Trump, withdrew guidance that said federal law called for treating transgender students equally, including allowing them to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
Adams transitioned from female to male before starting his freshman year at the high school just outside Jacksonville. He said he used the boys’ restroom without incident for weeks until several girls complained. He and his mother eventually sued in federal court, winning an order after a bench trial that he could use the boys’ restroom.
Now a student at the University of Central Florida, Adams told The Associated Press in a phone interview, “I really think it is going to take the courts to change it.”
The district argues that Adams is not a boy and that he should be excluded from the boys’ bathroom because those born as boys have “the right to be free from exposing one’s private and personal space and unclothed and partially clothed body to members of the opposite sex.”
The trial judge rejected this argument, finding that Adams would use a stall and that no breach of privacy would occur. “Plaintiff’s anatomy has no relevance to his ability to use the boys’ restroom,” wrote Adams’ lawyer, Tara Borelli of Lambda legal. “Defendant’s witnesses conceded at trial that Drew is treated differently because he is transgender, which is sex discrimination.”
The district argues that the trial judge “overextended” a 2011 decision by the 11th Circuit that found the state of Georgia had illegally discriminated against an employee of the state legislature by firing the employee when she announced her transition from male to female. The district also argues that a federal educational law that bans discrimination “on the basis of sex” doesn’t cover transgender people.
Borelli, though, say the law, called Title IX, does cover transgender people and that it’s impossible for the school board to carry out its desired policy without sex-based discrimination.
“These kinds of policies inflict suffering,” Borelli told the AP.