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Tipsheet

Appeals Court Upholds Florida High School's Transgender Bathroom Policy

On Friday, a federal appeals court ruled that a Florida’s school district’s policy requiring students to use restrooms that align with their biological sex rather than their gender identity is constitutional.

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In the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’ 7-4 decision, the judges rules that the St. Johns County School Board did not discriminate against transgender students by implementing the bathroom policy, according to Politico. The majority said the policy did not violate Title IX, the federal civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools. 

The lawsuit came about because a former student named Drew Adams, who is female, sued the school district in 2017 because Adams was not allowed to use the boys’ restroom. Reportedly, the court’s decision was split down party lines. The seven justices in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, and the four dissenting justices were appointed by Democrats (via Politico): 

Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote in the majority opinion that that the school board policy advances the important governmental objective of protecting students’ privacy in school bathrooms. She said the district’s policy does not violate the law because it’s based on biological sex, not gender identity.

Judge Jill Pryor wrote in a dissenting opinion that the interest of protecting privacy is not absolute and must coexist alongside fundamental principles of equality, specifically where exclusion implies inferiority.

In a statement to local outlet News4JAX, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Tara Borelli said that the ruling is “aberrant” because it “contradicts the decision of every other circuit to consider the question across the country.”

Tim Forson, the superintendent of St. Johns County, said in a statement to the outlet that he was “pleased” with the court’s decision.

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“The court’s opinion was supported by sound legal reasoning and common sense. Under this decision, the district will be able to protect all students’ rights,” Forson said in a statement.

In the 50-page opinion, Judge Barbara Lagoa said that the school district’s policy protects students and that "sex" does not include the concept of "gender identity."

Judge Jill Pryor, one of the four dissenting justices, wrote that Adams “was forced to endure a stigmatizing and humiliating walk of shame” to a gender-neutral bathroom at the school.

“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,” Pryor added. “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 2018, U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled in Adams' favor, News4Jax noted. Adams graduated from high school as the legal challenge continued.

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