Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to school transgender bathroom policy

Gender Neutral Restroom sign is seen placed outside a restroom for the 15th annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 9, 2016.
Gender Neutral Restroom sign is seen placed outside a restroom for the 15th annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 9, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a Pennsylvania school district’s policy of allowing students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

In an order released Tuesday, the high court denied an appeal in Doe, Joel, et al. v. Boyertown Area School, et al., allowing a lower court's decision in favor of the school district to stand, thus allowing boys who identify as female to enters girls' bathrooms, locker rooms and showers, and vice versa. 

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm representing a group of students suing the school district over the policy, denounced the Supreme Court’s denial of appeal.

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ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy, John Bursch, said in a statement released Tuesday that he believed the decision ignored the privacy rights of students.

“No student’s recognized right to bodily privacy should be made contingent on what other students believe about their own gender. Because the Third Circuit’s decision made a mess of bodily privacy and Title IX principles, we believe the Supreme Court should have reviewed it,” stated Bursch.

“But we hope the court will take up a similar case in the future to bring much needed clarity to how the lower courts should handle violations of well-established student privacy rights.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, a progressive legal group that intervened in the case, celebrated the upholding of the lower court's decision.

“This is an enormous victory for transgender students across the country,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, in a statement released Tuesday.

“This lawsuit sought to reverse that hard-won progress by excluding transgender students from school facilities that other students use. That would have increased the stigma and discrimination that transgender students already face.”

In 2016, the Boyertown Area School District decided to allow students to use the bathrooms and locker room facilities that corresponded with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

The move came not long after the Obama administration issued a guidance demanding that public schools pursue similar measures. The Trump administration rescinded the guidance.

In response to the school's actions following the Obama administration's guidance, a group of students sued the school district, arguing that the policy violated their privacy, as it allowed boys to enter the girls' private facilities.  

A district court ruled in favor of the school district and last July, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the lower court ruling.

“… 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,” concluded the panel.

Last November, the ADF filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing in part that the Third Circuit's panel decision was faulty because the high court has “long recognized the need for separating male and female students in locker rooms, restrooms, and showers.”

“Forcing a teenager to share a locker room or restroom with a member of the opposite sex can cause embarrassment and distress, particularly for students who have been victims of sexual assault,” stated the appeal.

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