News (USA)

Federal court rules against trans student’s right to use the correct bathroom

Lambda Legal, Drew Adams, transgender
Photo: Lambda Legal

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Florida has reversed a lower court ruling that granted access to boys’ restrooms for a trans student in the state. The 7-4 decision said the student’s civil rights were not violated under either the Equal Protection Clause or Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The vote was split for and against between Republican and Democratic appointees.

The Eleventh Circuit’s decision is a break with the Fourth and Seventh Circuit Courts, which found in favor of trans students in similar cases presenting the same issues.

In 2017, Drew Adams, a trans student at Nease High School in St. Johns County, Florida sued the state for access to bathrooms that conform to his gender identity. The state claimed Adams had to use a restroom that aligns with his “biological sex.” Adams was born female.

The story made headlines as one of the first test cases for transgender rights in Florida and sparked a far-right backlash exploited by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in his push for the Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as the Don’t Say Gay law.

At trial in December 2017, the court heard testimony that Adams identified as male from a young age and used the boys’ restrooms in St. Johns’ schools without incident. When he started high school, Adams continued the practice, without issue from fellow male classmates. Girls at the school, however, complained to school administrators.

While the school district had established rules that honored trans students’ desired names and pronouns, they refused to let trans students use single-sex facilities, insisting students would be treated according to the sex on their birth certificate.

By the time Adams was at trial, his transition was well underway with gender-affirming hormone therapy, a legal name change, and a new birth certificate identifying him as male. The school district, however, maintained that Adams’ sex was fixed at the time of enrollment.

In 2018,  U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Corrigan, a George W. Bush appointee, found for Adams, saying the school district’s policy violated both his equal protection and Title IX rights. In particular, the school district’s admission that Adams would be allowed to use boys’ restrooms had he enrolled with his current birth certificate undermined their argument that the district had an “important governmental interest” in protecting the privacy of cisgender boys in those facilities.

Two three-judge 11th Circuit Court panels agreed before the full court reversed those decisions on December 30.

In her opinion for the majority, Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa, a Trump appointee, avoided identifying Adams by he/him pronouns, instead using only his surname repeatedly. She also wrote a separate, concurring opinion detailing why a ruling in Adams’ favor would dismantle girls’ school sports, an issue not relevant to the appeal.

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