Florida high school’s transgender bathroom ban is upheld by appeals court

Man Holding Transgender Flag – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by nito

After a five-year legal battle, a Florida school district’s policy of dividing restrooms in schools according to biological sex has been upheld by a federal appeals court as being lawful.

The St. Johns County School Board’s requirement that transgender students use facilities that correspond to their biological sex or gender-neutral restrooms did not constitute sex discrimination against transgender students, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday in a 7–4 decision.

In a 50-page majority opinion, Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote that the school-board policy “advances the important governmental objective of protecting students’ privacy in school bathrooms.”

“The school board’s bathroom policy is clearly related to – indeed, is almost a mirror of – its objective of protecting the privacy interests of students to use the bathroom away from the opposite sex and to shield their bodies from the opposite sex in the bathroom, which, like a locker room or shower facility, is one of the spaces in a school where such bodily exposure is most likely to occur,” Lagoa, a former Florida Supreme Court justice, wrote.

The court’s decision was divided along partisan lines, with four justices appointed by Democratic presidents siding with Drew Adams, a former student who sued the district in 2017 because he wasn’t allowed to use the boys’ restroom, and seven justices appointed by Republican presidents siding with the school district.

In 2020, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled in Adams’ favor; however, the entire appeals court chose to consider the case. Adams started the process of changing from his gender of female to male before enrolling in Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, a Florida city southeast of Jacksonville.

“To start, the majority opinion simply declares – without any basis – that a person’s ‘biological sex’ is comprised solely of chromosomal structure and birth-assigned sex,” Judge Jill Pryor wrote. “So, the majority opinion concludes, a person’s gender identity has no bearing on this case about equal protection for a transgender boy. The majority opinion does so in disregard of the record evidence – evidence the majority does not contest – that gender identity is an immutable, biological component of a person’s sex.”

In the majority ruling, Judge Barbara Lagoa stated that the school board regulation serves the significant governmental goal of safeguarding students’ privacy in school restrooms. She said that because the district’s policy is based on biological sex rather than gender identity, it does not violate the law.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Jill Pryor stated that where exclusion implies inferiority, the interest in preserving privacy cannot coexist with fundamental values of equality.

A request for comment from The Associated Press was not immediately answered by Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ rights organization that has been helping Adams.

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