US appeals court says Florida high school is right to ban trans kids from using preferred bathrooms

Signs on a wall show members of the public that the bathroom is an 'all gender restroom' and inclusive of trans people

A United States federal appeals court has ruled that a Florida high school’s policy banning trans students from using bathrooms of their chosen identity is constitutional. 

The 11th US circuit court of appeals ruled in a seven-to-four decision that the policy – instituted by a school board in St Johns County, Florida – didn’t violate the US Constitution’s equal protection clause or federal civil rights law by requiring trans students to use bathrooms corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth. 

Drew Adams, a trans man, challenged the policy and sued the school board in 2017 after he wasn’t allowed to use the boys’ restroom when he was a student at Allen D Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. 

Adams sued the board, contending the trans bathroom ban went against Title IX, a civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, alongside violating the equal protection clause of the constitution. 

Writing for the majority in the ruling, announced on Friday (30 December), circuit judge Barbara Lagoa disagreed and said the school board policy holds the important objective of protecting students’ privacy in school bathrooms. 

She wrote it was “wrong” to suggest the bathroom policy “relied on impermissible stereotypes associated with Adam’s transgender status”. The Trump appointee added Title IX allows separate restroom facilities based on the “plain and ordinary meaning of ‘sex’ in 1972”, when the law took effect. 

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Tara Borelli, a lawyer with Lambda Legal which represented Adams, said the team will be “reviewing and evaluating” the appeals court’s “dangerous decision”, Reuters reported. 

“This is an aberrant ruling that contradicts the rulings of every other circuit to consider the question across the country,” Borelli said. 

LGBTQ+ advocates in the US have raised concerns that hateful rhetoric directed at the community by conservatives contributed to an “epidemic” of violence, hate and discrimination towards queer people. 

A person attending a trans rights protest holds up a sign reading 'Science teachers know gender is a social construct'
LGBTQ+ advocates highlighted how a rise in hateful rhetoric has resulted in violence and discrimination against queer people. (Getty)

The ruling is a victory for conservatives who continue to push anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation, including trans bathroom ban measures, across the country. 

In May, Oklahoma became the latest state to sign an anti-trans bathroom bill into law. The measure requires trans students in public schools to use restrooms, changing rooms, showers and other facilities that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate. 

There have been several legal challenges against similar bans in recent years as right-wing legislators continue to champion anti-trans policies. ​​

Trans trailblazer Gavin Grimm was involved in a seven-year-long battle that put him at the centre of the debate on trans rights in the US. He fought against a discriminatory trans bathroom ban by Virginia’s Gloucester County School Board and eventually took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. 

Grimm, who continues to advocate for the community, was awarded a monumental victory in the lawsuit, and the school board was ​​ordered in 2021 to pay more than $1.3 million in attorney’s fees and costs to Grimm

However, Grimm revealed he hadn’t gotten “any of the money that the school board is paying out”, but was instead receiving only $1 only in “nominal damages”. 

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