BALTIMORE (CN) - A federal judge advanced claims Monday by a transgender Maryland teen who is being forced to use the girls’ locker room at school.
"The policy clearly implicates the equal-protection clause," U.S. District Judge George Russell wrote in a 40-page opinion. "It treats MAB differently from the rest of the high school's students. While the rest of MAB's peers may use the locker room that aligns with their gender identity, MAB may not."
Max Brennan, who is referred to as MAB throughout the opinion, has identified as male since the sixth grade. At age 13, he started going by a new name and requesting that he be addressed with male pronouns.
But Brennan's high school in Talbot County, Maryland, did not allow him to use the boys' locker room or bathrooms, instead converting three of the school's single bathrooms into gender-neutral facilities. The school eventually allowed Brennan to use the boys' restrooms after the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of another transgender student in Virginia, but it stood firm on its locker-room policy.
This meant Brennan had to change for gym class in the gender-neutral bathrooms, which often made him late. Brennan's parents brought a discrimination lawsuit against Talbot County Public Schools in July 2016 and U.S. District Judge George Russell refused Tuesday to dismiss the case.
Finding that the Talbot policy "relies on sex-based stereotypes,” Russell said it warrants the same careful look courts give sex-discrimination claims.
The analysis stems from the conclusion, Russell explained, “that classifications based on transgender status are per se entitled to heightened scrutiny because transgender status itself is at least a quasi-suspect class.”
"Transgender people have been historically subjected to discrimination, their status bears no relation to their ability to contribute to society, they exhibit immutable and distinguishing characteristics and they are both a minority and politically powerless,” the opinion continues.
Russell also found that Talbot Schools did not yet show that the privacy concerns of other students justify its policy.
Though Russell denied the school district's motion to dismiss on Monday, he also declined to enter an injunction because Brennan is not enrolled in a gym class this year. Russell said he would schedule a hearing on the injunction before the next school year starts, when Brennan is scheduled to take gym again.
Brennan praised the decision in a statement issued by the ACLU, which is serving as co-counsel on the case with FreeState Justice.
"I am extremely happy with the court's decision and think it is a great step in the right direction," Brennan said. "I am hopeful that this case will not only help change policy for the better, but help the students who are bound to come after me."
Talbot County Superintendent of Schools Kelly Griffith's office declined to comment on the ruling.
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