ATLANTA (CN) — An attorney for a transgender teenager asked an 11th Circuit panel Thursday to require a Florida school district to allow the teen to use the bathroom matching his gender identity.
Drew Adams, the transgender boy at the center of the case, was granted an injunction by a Jacksonville federal judge last year requiring the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, where he was entering his senior year.
Citing privacy concerns, an attorney for the school district argued before the 11th Circuit on Thursday that it shouldn't be forced to allow students to use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity and denied that its policy is discriminatory.
"The Supreme Court has held that the differences between the sexes are real, without question,” Jeffrey Slanker of Sniffen & Spellman said. “Biological boys use the boys' restroom and biological girls use the girls' restroom.”
Arguing on behalf of Adams, attorney Tara Borelli of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund told the three-judge panel that there is "no recognized privacy right not to share spaces with transgender students," and said that the case is about the right of transgender students to equal dignity.
The 11th Circuit's ruling in the case will affect schools in Florida, Georgia and Alabama and could lead to a Supreme Court battle over the issue.
In a June 2017 complaint, Adams claimed he was subjected to discrimination at school on a daily basis due to the school policy preventing transgender students from using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
After two anonymous female students reported him for using the boys' restroom, Adams was instructed to use a gender neutral or girls' restroom and warned that he would be subject to disciplinary action if he used the boys' restroom again.
Adams, whose assigned gender at birth was female, began medically transitioning in 2015. According to court documents, both Adams' Florida birth certificate and Florida driver's license now identify him as being male.
Adams alleged that the school's policy, which he says singled him out from the other boys at school, violated his equal-protection rights and Title IX, a law preventing school systems that receive federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex.
In a 70-page ruling issued in July 2018, U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, a George W. Bush appointee, found that the school board's privacy and safety concerns "aren't realized when transgender students use school bathrooms aligned with their gender identity," pointing out that non-transgender students who are uncomfortable sharing a restroom with Adams could use a gender neutral restroom.
"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,” Corrigan wrote. “When it comes to his use of the bathroom, the law requires that he be treated like any other boy."
The district court awarded Adams $1,000 in compensatory damages and handed down an injunction preventing the school board from enforcing its bathroom policy against him.
Since the district court received no evidence concerning any other transgender student, the injunction was limited to Adams.
On Thursday, Slanker told the panel that although the school district is not aware of any specific instance of an invasion of privacy by Adams, the district maintains there is "a bodily privacy interest related to merely being in a bathroom with someone of the opposite sex."
"In the case of a transgender male student who transfers in and indicates they are 'male' on paperwork, wouldn't they be required to use the male bathroom?" asked U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin, a Barack Obama appointee, noting that there may be transgender students who have not yet come out as transgender to school officials but still use the bathroom which aligns with their gender identity.
Slanker conceded that the school board is not going to play “bathroom cop" and would "address someone using the wrong bathroom on a case-by-case basis."
But Borelli argued that Slanker was overcomplicating the issue.
"There is no connection between privacy and safety here. This case is only about a boy who wants to use the boys' bathroom," she argued.
"No one challenges the line being drawn between sex-separated spaces,” Borelli added. “This is a challenge to the line drawn around transgender students and only transgender students, saying we will lock you out of the bathroom.”
She concluded, “School district hypotheticals don't justify harm to trans kids.”
Martin was joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor Jr., a George W. Bush appointee, and U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor, another Obama appointee. The two judges are not related.
The panel did not indicate when it would reach a decision in the case.
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