A federal appeals court issued a landmark decision Friday for transgender students, declaring unconstitutional a Florida school district’s policy of requiring individuals to use the restroom that corresponds to their biological sex.
It was the first ruling of its kind by a federal appeals court and involved a student, Drew Adams, who was born female but identifies as male.
Nease High School in Florida gave Adams the option of using a single-stall gender-neutral bathroom or a multi-stall girls’ restroom. Adams, though, wanted to use the boys’ restroom, and sued in 2017, alleging violations of Title IX (1972) and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
A district judge previously sided with Adams. On Friday, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court.
“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,” Judge Beverly Martin wrote for the majority.
Adams said he felt “alienated and humiliated” when he walked past the boys’ restroom to use the gender-neutral restroom.
Martin referenced this year’s Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the high court ruled employers cannot fire someone for being gay or transgender under federal law. That decision was based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers employment. Adams’ claim was based partially on Title IX, which involves education. The court noted that “both titles prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of sex.”
“Bostock teaches that, even if Congress never contemplated that Title VII could forbid discrimination against transgender people, the ‘starkly broad terms’ of the statute require nothing less,” Martin wrote. “This reasoning applies with the same force to Title IX’s equally broad prohibition on sex discrimination.”
Title IX, Martin ruled, “protects students from discrimination based on their transgender status.”
Adams began transitioning in eighth grade.
“[T]he School District’s bathroom policy subjects Mr. Adams to unfavorable treatment simply because he defies gender stereotypes as a transgender person,” the majority opinion said.
Chief Judge William Pryor dissented.
“Not long ago, a suit challenging the lawfulness of separating bathrooms on the basis of sex would have been unthinkable,” Pryor wrote. “This practice has long been the common-sense example of an acceptable classification on the basis of sex. And for good reason: it protects well-established privacy interests in using the bathroom away from the opposite sex.”
Although the Supreme Court ruled for LGBT individuals in employment, Pryor noted, “it declined to consider the permissibility of sex-separated bathrooms.”
The majority’s decision, he wrote, could have major consequences.
“The logic of this decision would require all schoolchildren to use sex-neutral bathrooms,” he wrote.
Pryor was nominated by President George W. Bush. Martin and Judge Jill Pryor, who also joined the majority opinion, were nominated by Presidents Clinton and Obama, respectively.
The 11th Circuit covers Florida, Alabama and Georgia.
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.