Appeals Court Delivers Blow to Florida School District in Transgender Bathroom Case

Ruling expected to have broad ramifications in similar cases nationwide

Appeals Court Delivers Blow to Florida School District in Transgender Bathroom Case

Ruling expected to have broad ramifications in similar cases nationwide

A federal appeals court ruling last week that a Florida school district violated the civil rights of a transgender student by its policy of restricting restroom use according to biological sex is being hailed as a “milestone for transgender rights.”

The 2-1 decision from a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida, could potentially be tested at the Supreme Court, where transgender activists celebrated just last month in a ruling that imposed sexual orientation and gender identity onto the meaning of the term “sex” in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The appellate panel reasoned that Nease High School in St. Johns County, south of Jacksonville, Florida, erred in requiring Drew Adams, a biological female who presents as a male, to either use the girls restroom or a small gender-neutral restroom.

The ruling could have broad implications for how public schools deal with transgender students. An article at the legal website proclaimed: “The victory covering schools in Florida, Georgia and Alabama … is considered a milestone for transgender rights that will resonate beyond high school bathroom use.”

In the majority opinion, the court said the public schools “may not punish its students for gender nonconformity” nor “harm transgender students by establishing arbitrary, separate rules for their restroom use.” The court agreed with Adams that his civil rights were violated according to federal Title IX education statutes on the basis of sex.

But a lawyer for the school district, Jeff Slanker, told the court in arguing the case late last year, “Differences between the sexes are real and it necessitates this kind of separation between the sexes. This has always been the way it’s been done.”

In a 28-page dissent, Chief Judge William Pryor, an appointee of George W. Bush, agreed.

“Not long ago, a suit challenging the lawfulness of separating bathrooms on the basis of sex would have been unthinkable. 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.”

The school district had produced forms that showed Adams had been required to use the boys bathroom since at least fourth grade, even though he had been listed as identifying as a girl that school year.

Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal organization, represented Adams, who has since graduated high school and is attending college, according to the Florida Times-Union.

Robert Gagnon, professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and author of “The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics,” responded to the decision on Twitter.

“Bad 2-1 ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Not surprisingly the LGBTQ lobby made the test case a female using a male restroom rather than the more onerous circumstance of male using a female restroom. But the decision has implications for both,” Gagnon said.

Photo: Massimo Parisi/Alamy Stock Photo

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