In Powerful Order for Boyertown District, 3rd Circuit Underlines Schools’ Responsibility to Protect Transgender Students

By Shane Stahl • June 21, 2018 • 10:19 am

On June 18, 2018 the written opinion in a case concerning discrimination against transgender students in the Boyertown School District in Pennsylvania was released, which emphasized the importance of transgender students being free of discrimination in their districts, and allowed to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

On Thursday, May 24, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit heard the case of Doe v. Boyertown, which involved a school district in Pennsylvania that protects transgender students from discrimination. Anti-LGBTQ extremist organization the Alliance Defending Freedom sought to force the district to repeal its transgender-inclusive policy, filing a lawsuit on behalf of several non-transgender students who claimed their privacy was threatened by transgender students using the restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

Just minutes after the oral argument, the judges on the panel returned from deliberation and unanimously upheld the district’s transgender-affirming policy. The rapid and unanimous decision was announced on the spot so that Boyertown’s policy would not be in question for the remainder of the school year.

In its opinion, the panel exorciated the idea of treating transgender students differently because of their gender identity. Here are some key excerpts::

  • “Adopting the appellants’ position would very publicly brand all transgender students with a scarlet ‘T,’ and they should not have to endure that as the price of attending their public school.”
  • “When transgender students face discrimination in schools, the risk to their wellbeing cannot be overstated—indeed, it can be life threatening. This record clearly supports the District Court’s conclusion that the School District had a compelling state interest in protecting transgender students from discrimination.”
  • “We conclude that, under the circumstances here, the presence of transgender students in the locker and restrooms is no more offensive to constitutional or Pennsylvania-law privacy interests than the presence of the other students who are not transgender. Nor does their presence infringe on the plaintiffs’ rights under Title IX.”

To read the full 3rd Circuit opinion, click here.

The three-judge panel also cited Title IX protections in their opinion, writing that sex discrimination protections include discrimination against students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

This is the latest in a series of decisions affirming the rights of transgender students. In Wisconsin, 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. More recently, 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, issued in 2016 by the Obama administration, was rescinded by President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose department also stated it will no longer investigate claims of discrimination made by transgender students.

We are heartened to see the judiciary standing with transgender students in their efforts to be treated equally under the law, and be free from discrimination simply for being who they are.

Learn more about litigation impacting LGBTQ Americans here.

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