Federal Judge Rules for Transgender Teenager Denied Restroom Access at Florida School

By Adam Polaski • July 27, 2018 • 9:14 am

On Thursday, July 26, US District Court Judge Timothy J. Corrigan, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, issued a beautiful decision in Adams v. School Board of St. John’s County, Florida. The decision affirms dignity for Drew Adams, a transgender boy who had been denied access to the boys’ restroom at his school outside of Jacksonville, Florida. The school district’s policy prohibited transgender students from the restrooms that matched their gender identity – and the court found that the policy violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The case was brought by Lambda LegalRead the full ruling here.

Drew Adams, transgender teenager

Yesterday Drew Adams said:

“I am so grateful that I can just focus on being a regular kid at school. I have so many other things on my mind, like getting into my top college choice, so I don’t want to have to worry about whether I can use the boys’ restroom. It was upsetting to think my school didn’t want me because I am transgender, and I hope no one else has to feel like that.”

The ruling reads:

“When confronted with something affecting our children that is new, outside of our experience, and contrary to gender norms we thought we understood, it is natural that parents want to protect their children. But the evidence is that Drew Adams poses no threat to the privacy or safety of any of his fellow students. Rather, Drew Adams is just like every other student at Nease High School, a teenager coming of age in a complicated, uncertain and changing world. When it comes to his use of the bathroom, the law requires that he be treated like any other boy.”

The case was filed in June 2017 by Lambda Legal on behalf on Drew Adams as a challenge to Nease High School’s refusal to allow him to use the boys’ bathroom, which corresponds with Drew’s gender identity. Drew started his transition in 2015, and began to live as a male, which included using the boys’ bathroom. He says one day, he was called to the principal’s office and told that he would have to stop using the boys’ bathroom and instead use the school’s gender-neutral bathroom, which was a significant distance from his locker and other classes.

A trial in Drew Adams’ case concluded in February 2018, marking the first bench trial in the United States focused on transgender students facing discrimination related to restroom access at school, according to Equality Case Files.

This decision is the latest in a series of decisions affirming the rights of transgender students, often under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. In Wisconsin last year, student Ash Whitaker settled with his district after filing suit in a U.S. District Court and securing a groundbreaking victory from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which found that anti-transgender discrimination violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Act. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit dismissed a case filed by non-transgender students challenging a school district’s transgender-inclusive policy, underlining that affirming transgender students does not violate anyone’s privacy. And this summer, Gavin Grimm saw a District Court rule in his favor for a second time, upholding that Title IX protections were violated by his school district. Grimm’s case had been pending before the Supreme Court, but was sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit after guidance to schools regarding the fair treatment of transgender students was rescinded.

Similarly, federal courts are steadily building toward a consensus that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, also protects LGBTQ people who face employment discrimination. Efforts are also underway to ensure that the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, protects LGBTQ Americans.

These steps forward in court build fantastic momentum for the campaign to secure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The reality is that in more than 30 states, LGBTQ Americans are not fully and explicitly protected from discrimination – and that is unacceptable when so many LGBTQ people experience discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. We must continue working every day against discrimination, building on court wins like this week’s Adams ruling and legislative decisions like New Hampshire’s passage of #TransLawNH, until no American faces discrimination because of who they are or who they love.

Learn more about litigation impacting LGBTQ Americans here in our Litigation Tracker.

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