A federal appeals court upheld a Florida school district’s traditional bathroom policy on Friday in a landmark ruling involving the issue of transgender-identifying students and privacy.
At issue was a policy by the St. Johns County School District that separates school bathrooms on the basis of biological sex. The district also offers students a third option: single-stall gender-neutral restrooms.
Drew Adams, who was born female but identifies as male, requested usage of the boys’ restroom. Adams sued the school district and won at the district level and then at the appeals court level when a three-judge panel in 2020 declared the policy unconstitutional. Adams’ attorneys alleged the district violated Title IX (1972) and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
On Friday, the full U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeal, in a 7-4 split, overturned the three-judge panel and upheld the district’s policy.
“We disagree with Adams’s theory that separation of bathrooms on the basis of biological sex necessarily discriminates against transgender students,” Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote for the majority. “... There has been a long tradition in this country of separating sexes in some, but not all, circumstances – and public bathrooms are likely the most frequently encountered example. Indeed, the universality of that practice is precisely what made Justice Thurgood Marshall’s statement – ‘[a] sign that says ‘men only’ looks very different on a bathroom door than a courthouse door’ – so pithy.”
The district’s policy, Lagoa wrote, “advances the important governmental objective of protecting students’ privacy in school bathrooms and does so in a manner substantially related to that objective.”
“The protection of students’ privacy interests in using the bathroom away from the opposite sex and in shielding their bodies from the opposite sex is obviously an important governmental objective,” Lagoa wrote.
Adams is not “similarly situated” to biological boys because “Adams remained both biologically and anatomically identical to biological females – not males,” Lagoa wrote.
All seven majority votes involved judges nominated by Republican presidents: Lagoa (Trump), William Pryor (George W. Bush), Kevin C. Newsom (Trump), Elizabeth L. Branch (Trump), Britt C. Grant (Trump), Robert J. Luck (Trump) and Andrew L. Brasher (Trump). All four dissenting votes came from judges nominated by Democratic presidents.
Ed Whelan, a distinguished senior fellow for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote a National Review column that labeled the decision a “stroke of judicial sanity.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented medical professionals who supported the school district’s policy, applauded the decision.
“We’re pleased the 11th Circuit has affirmed that sex is a distinct biological class that merits protection under the law, a reality that female athletes and so many others across the country have been fighting to protect,” said ADF senior counsel Christiana Kiefer. “And if gender identity advocates had had their way, St. Johns’ schools would have been forced to violate students’ privacy and cooperate with high-risk, unproven medical treatments. There are no controlled, randomized studies showing gender affirmation treatments are helpful in the long term. The 11th Circuit has rightly allowed St. Johns’ schools to prioritize the well-being of its students over gender ideology.”
Photo courtesy: Juan Marin/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.