School district can bar trans students from using opposite-sex bathrooms, 11th Circuit rules

Gender Neutral Restroom sign is seen placed outside a restroom.
Gender Neutral Restroom sign is seen placed outside a restroom. | Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

A federal appeals court has upheld a Florida school district's policy that prevented a trans-identified student from using bathrooms based on gender identity rather than biological sex.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, in a 7-4 decision, last Friday that the St. Johns County School Board's bathroom policy did not discriminate against trans-identified students or violate federal civil rights law.

"The school board's bathroom policy is clearly related to — indeed, is almost a mirror of — its objective of protecting the privacy interests of students to use the bathroom away from the opposite sex and to shield their bodies from the opposite sex in the bathroom, which, like a locker room or shower facility, is one of the spaces in a school where such bodily exposure is most likely to occur," Judge Barbara Lagoa, a Trump appointee, wrote for the majority.

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The other judges who sided with the school district were Chief Judge William Pryor, Judges Kevin Newsom, Elizabeth Branch, Britt Grant, Robert Luck and Andrew Brasher, all Republican appointees.

Born in 2000 as a female but identifying as male, Drew Adams, the petitioner, was initially allowed to use the boy's restrooms for six weeks in ninth grade. But eventually, officials barred Adams from doing so.

Although officials gave Adams the alternative of using a gender-neutral, single-stall bathroom, the student filed a lawsuit against the school district on the grounds of discrimination.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Jill Pryor, an Obama appointee, wrote that Adams "was forced to endure a stigmatizing and humiliating walk of shame — past the boys' bathrooms and into a single-stall 'gender neutral' bathroom."

The other dissenting judges are Charles Wilson, Adalberto Jordan and Robin Rosenbaum, all Democrat appointees.

The school board maintains its bathroom policy addresses concerns about students' privacy, safety and welfare and provides for sex-neutral bathroom accommodations for transgender students.

In August 2020, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of Adams, with the majority opinion arguing that the school board violated federal civil rights law.

Circuit Judge Beverly Martin, an Obama appointee, authored the majority opinion concluding that the school standard violated Adams' federal Title IX rights.

In November 2021, the attorneys general of 22 states and the District of Columbia signed a brief in the case demanding that the Florida school district allow trans-identified students to use bathrooms matching their chosen gender identity rather than biological sex.

The previous year, attorneys general representing 18 states filed an amicus brief on behalf of the school district, arguing that school officials did not violate federal antidiscrimination law.

"The restroom issue that is presented in this case and similar issues that will inevitably follow involving locker rooms, athletic teams and pronouns involve sensitive policy considerations and myriad competing interests," stated the brief in support of the school district.

"Allowing a transgender student to use the locker room that corresponds to the student's gender identity has repercussions for other students who may lose the ability to change clothing in private, without being exposed to members of the opposite sex."

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