Judge sides with transgender teen over locker room suit

Judge sides with transgender teen over locker room suit
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A federal district judge in Maryland ruled this week that federal anti-discrimination laws in schools protect a transgender teen's right to use the boy's bathroom and boy’s locker room.

In a 40-page opinion, U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III ruled a Maryland school policy blocking Max Brennan from using the boy’s locker room unlawfully singled him out because it did not apply to anyone else at the high school and harmed his health and well-being and denied a motion from the school board to dismiss Brennan's lawsuit challenging the policy. 

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Brennan, 15, referred to as M.A.B. in court documents, had been required to use to a separate gender-neutral bathroom at St. Michaels Middle High School to get ready for his gym class, which caused him at times to either be late or be disciplined for not changing for the class.

Russell said the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution “protects Brennan from ‘discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes,’” and because the school “policy classifies him on the basis of his transgender status, it constitutes ‘sex discrimination.’”

“M.A.B. has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, whose treatment requires ‘social transitioning,’” Russell wrote. “This includes accessing single-sex spaces, like locker rooms, that align with his gender identity.”

Russell is the first judge in Maryland to rule that such bathroom policies are in violation of federal laws banning sex discrimination in schools.

Russell, however, denied without prejudice Brennan's request to temporarily block the school's policy while it's being litigated. 
 
Because Brennan is not taking Physical Education this year, Russell said he agreed with the school board's argument that the harm Brennan asserts is not “actual and imminent.”  
 
Brennan has signed up for PE next year.
 
The court will now proceed to weigh the merits of the case and order the parties to confer and submit a joint proposed scheduling order. Both sides are hoping for a resolution in the case before the next school year begins.

Brennan celebrated the ruling in a statement Wednesday. 

“I am extremely happy with the court’s decision, and think it is a great step in the right direction,” he said.

“I am hopeful that this case will not only help change policy for the better, but help the students who are bound to come after me.”

Kelly Griffith, the superintendent of the Talbot County Public Schools, where St. Michaels is located, told The Hill in an email that she has no comment because the litigation is still pending.

Talbot County Public Schools, where St. Michaels is located, could not immediately be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman for the school system told The Washington Post she could not comment because of the ongoing litigation.

FreeState Justice, which brought the lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Maryland on Brennan’s behalf, said it hopes the court's decision serves as a wake-up call for the Talbot County School Board.

“School systems in Maryland should know the law and should be protecting students who are transgender from discrimination, not singling them out for separate and unequal treatment,” Jennifer Kent, FreeState Justice’s managing attorney, said.

Joshua Block, a staff attorney with the National ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, said the decision is not a final judgment on the school's policy, but sets a legal principle that discrimination against transgender students violates Title IX anti-discrimination laws. 

The Trump administration has taken an opposing view. 

In February, the Justice and Education Departments rolled back guidance that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. 

Updated: 5:44 p.m.