Transgender student rights get skeptical hearing at Federal Court of Appeals

While several federal courts across the country have consistently recognized the rights of transgender students in recent years, this week’s arguments before a full federal appeals court suggest a potential victory for those seeking to limit those rights.

A ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta to uphold a Florida school district’s restrictions on restroom access for a transgender boy could spark a Supreme Court clash of the United States, which has become more conservative since a 5-4 majority delivered a major victory on LGBTQ rights just two years ago.

And the latest legal developments come as several state legislatures weigh bills that would prevent transgender students from playing school sports or using restrooms that match their gender identity.

“Over the past seven or eight years, claims by transgender students under Title IX or the Equal Protection Clause [of the U.S. Constitution] succeeded,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University and an advocate for LGBTQ rights. The fact that the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta overturned an earlier panel ruling in favor of a transgender student and heard new arguments while the full court was ” alarming,” he said.

“I think there’s a good chance that the court will radically undo the progress that’s been made across the country, and in a way that will set it up for the Supreme Court of the United States,” Kreis said. .

President Joe Biden has spoken out on the rights of transgender students

The Florida case came at a time when some 130 bills are pending in state legislatures that would restrict transgender students in one form or another, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which defends these students. .

Indiana, Iowa and Utah are moving forward with measures that would prevent transgender girls from participating in school sports, according to the ACLU. In Arizona, sports and bathroom bills are on the rise. And the Florida House of Representatives on Thursday passed a controversial bill that would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity “in the elementary grades or in a way that is not appropriate for the classroom.” age or development of students”.

The measure “defines that there are certain instructions related to gender and sexual orientation that are simply not appropriate for certain ages, and we define this as K-3,” the rep said. state Joe Harding, a Republican who sponsors the bill. FoxNews.

At the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Jen Psaki reminded reporters that President Joe Biden issued a statement against Florida’s bill earlier this month.

Biden said Feb. 9 that “every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially children who will be impacted by this hateful bill — needs to know that you are loved and accepted for who you are. I have your back and my administration will continue to fight for the protections and security you deserve. »

The Biden administration participated Tuesday in the 11th Circuit’s en banc, or full, court argument in favor of Andrew Adams, an alumnus of the St. Johns County School District in North Florida.

Adams challenged a school board policy that barred him from accessing the boys’ bathroom after he began introducing himself as a boy when he entered Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida in 2015.

The district of St. Johns had adopted a policy that included the use of transgender student preferred pronouns, but it refused to allow transgender students to use restrooms or locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity.

The district refused to accept Adams’ amended Florida birth certificate, which lists him as male, and instead relied on his birth certificate at the time of registration, which listed Adams as female.

A federal district court ruled for Adams on claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination in government-funded schools federal.

A panel of three 11th Circuit judges ruled for Adams on the equal protection claim in the face of strong dissent from one judge. The full 11th Circuit, which is dominated by Republican appointees and considered one of the most conservative among federal appeals courts, agreed to overturn the panel’s decision and rehear the case.

Judges ask pointed questions involving gender-fluid students

Jeffrey Slanker, an attorney representing the St. Johns School Board, said, “There is a privacy interest in using the bathroom separately and apart from the other biological sex.”

He was pressed by some members of the court during an hour-long argument with a live audio broadcast.

“Why wouldn’t the school district adopt a policy similar to other school districts and some states as a whole, that students use the bathroom of the gender they identify with?” said Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum.

Tara L. Borelli, Adams’ representative for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, told the court that “Andrew Adams is treated differently because he was gender identified at birth and identifies like a man today”.

She was harshly interrogated by several members of the court. Judge Barbara Lagoa asked him how schools should handle a fluent student. Judge Kevin C. Newsom asked about an “anatomical and biological boy who is being bullied and asking to be in a girls’ physical education class.” Why wouldn’t this boy be considered treated differently under the law if a school refused his request, the judge asked.

Another judge asked why the court should ignore the government’s interest in preventing sexual assaults in bathrooms or locker rooms “just because they didn’t happen?”

Elizabeth P. Hecker, an attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, also argued on behalf of Adams, focusing on the view that the council’s policy violates Title IX.

“The school board’s stated interest is privacy, and forcing Mr. Adams out of the boys’ restroom does nothing to promote privacy here,” she said.

A group of 18 states filed a friend of the court brief in support of the school board.

“Even if Title IX could plausibly be interpreted as requiring educational institutions to disregard biological sex when assigning transgender students to restrooms, states have certainly not been clearly informed of this requirement” , indicates their memory.

Chris Erchull, a staff attorney at GLBTQ Legal Defenders & Advocates, a Boston-based group that filed a brief in support of Adams, said the case can be viewed narrowly as one involving the denial of bathroom access for a single transgender student. gender identity.

“But the arguments showed there was some tension there,” he said. “Some people want to take this as a broad question.”

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