Appeals court says Florida high school must grant transgender students access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity

Aug. 10, 2020
A student at at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., sued the St. Johns County district after being denied access to the boys washroom.

Transgender high school students must be granted access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, a federal appeals court in Atlanta has ruled.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the ruling is a victory for Drew Adams, a transgender student who wanted to use to the boys’ bathroom at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla. The appeals panel says the St. Johns County school board’s policy barring Adams from the boys’ bathroom violated his civil rights by discriminating against him because of his sex.

The 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sets a precedent for the three states under its jurisdiction: Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

“I am very happy to see justice prevail,” says Adams, 19. “High school is hard enough without having your school separate you from your peers and mark you as inferior. I hope this decision helps save other transgender students from having to go through that painful and humiliating experience.”

The St. Johns (Fla.) school district declined to comment on the court’s decision.

Adams, an honor student who came out as transgender when he was 14, now attends the University of Central Florida. In 2017, he sued his county school board after being told he could no longer use the boys’ restroom at Nease High.

The decision, written by Judge Beverly Martin, relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month that held federal law prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender employees in the workplace.

The high court’s decision “confirmed that workplace discrimination against transgender people is contrary to law,” Martin wrote. “Neither should this discrimination be tolerated in schools. The school board’s bathroom policy, as applied to Mr. Adams, singled him out for different treatment because of his transgender status.”

Martin added: “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.”

Chief Judge Bill Pryor issued a dissent, predicting the decision will have “radical consequences for sex-separated bathrooms.”

Prior says the majority opinion “reaches the remarkable conclusion that schoolchildren have no sex-specific privacy interests when using the bathroom....The logic of its opinion would invalidate all government policies that separate bathrooms—or locker rooms and showers, for that matter—by sex.”

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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