20 states back transgender student in lawsuit against Florida school's bathroom policy

20 states back transgender student in lawsuit against Florida school's bathroom policy
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A coalition of 20 states led by New York is backing a transgender student in Florida who’s suing his school for discrimination.

The case now before the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, stems from the lawsuit 18-year-old Drew Adams brought challenging the St. Johns County School Board’s policy of prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identify.

Adams argues the policy violated Title IX, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in education, as well as his right under the 14th Amendment to be treated equally.

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The district court agreed and blocked the school from excluding Adams from the boys’ restroom and awarded him $1,000 in compensatory damages. The St. Johns County School Board is now appealing that ruling.

The school argues the district court was wrong to find that Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity and that in requiring Adams to use a gender neutral bathroom the school was treating him differently than other similarly situated students.

“The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment essentially directs state actors to treat all persons similarly situated alike,” the school argued.

In an amicus brief, the attorneys general from 20 states and the District of Columbia said the school’s policy penalizes transgender students for failing to conform to gender stereotypes and therefore constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex.

“And because the policy fails to advance any legitimate purpose such as protecting safety or privacy, its sole function is to stigmatize a particular group, which violates equal protection,” they argued.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on transgender rights, but came close in 2017 when it agreed to hear a similar case brought by a transgender student in Virginia. But the court later changed its mind after the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era policy that directed schools to let transgender students use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

The court vacated an appeals court ruling that had allowed Gavin Grimm to use the bathroom he chooses and sent the case back to the lower court for review.

In addition to New York, the state attorneys from Washington, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont and the District of Columbia signed the amicus brief in support of Adams.