Federal Appeals Court Recognizes Gender Dysphoria as Legal Disability

Ruling rebuffs Virginia jail for separating biological male from female inmates

Federal Appeals Court Recognizes Gender Dysphoria as Legal Disability

Ruling rebuffs Virginia jail for separating biological male from female inmates

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) should apply to trans-identified people with gender dysphoria and that a Virginia county jail violated federal law by segregating inmates according to their biological sex.

In a 2-1 ruling published Aug. 16, the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that upheld the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center’s sex segregation policy. The ruling in the case, which was brought by a biological male inmate who identifies as female, would apply to jails that house transgender inmates based on their biological sex.

The ruling was made by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, appointed by President Clinton, and Judge Pamela Harris, appointed by President Obama. Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum, appointed by President Trump, dissented. The issue returns to the district court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The inmate who filed the lawsuit, known as Kesha Williams, argues that gender dysphoria—a discomfort with one’s sex at birth—constitutes a disability that should be covered under ADA and contrary to Fairfax County’s policy. The lawsuit names the county sheriff and a nurse who, according to the suit, noted that Williams is male during a physical examination. Williams has reportedly been on gender hormone treatments for 15 years.

Motz wrote in her opinion that the prison’s policy “violates [a] federal law” that requires prison officials to “consider on a case-by-case basis whether placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems” in deciding “whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates.” 

The presence of biological male inmates in women’s prisons has caused safety concerns among conservatives and even some liberal feminists.

In July, the New Jersey Department of Corrections removed a biological male inmate named Demi Minor from a women’s prison after “she” impregnated two female inmates. Minor has now been placed in a secured space inside a male prison.

Photo: Marmaduke St. John / Alamy Stock Photo

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