Metro Weekly

Transgender student sues over bathroom access in Florida school district

Drew Adams says he was "shocked and demoralized" after he was barred from the boys' restroom

Photo: Nikolai Nolan, via Wikimedia.

A Florida teen is suing his school board for barring him from the boys’ restroom.

Lambda Legal has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Drew Adams, a 16-year-old transgender boy who was barred from the boys’ restroom by his local school board in a suburb of Jacksonville, Fla.

Adams, a rising junior at Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., has been living as an out transgender male since 2015. Beginning in his freshman year, he was allowed to use the boys’ restroom, without incident.

But someone anonymously complained to the St. Johns County School Board, which told Adams that he could only use gender-neutral restrooms if he chose not to use the restrooms matching his assigned sex at birth.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in the Middle District of Florida, alleges that the county’s policy on transgender students’ restroom use sends a purposeful message that transgender students in the district do not deserve the privacy, respect, and protections afforded to cisgender students.

“Drew is a boy, but St. Johns County School Board separates him from his peers and marks him as inferior just because he’s transgender,” Paul Castillo, senior attorney and students’ rights strategist at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Forcing Drew to use a separate restroom sends a terrible message to the whole school community that Drew is different and somehow not worthy of an equal learning environment.

“The school board should be watching out for the well-being of all its students, but through their discriminatory actions they have failed Drew and the other transgender students at the school,” added Castillo. “No student can thrive in a school where he is treated like a second-class person.”

Adams’ mother, Erica Adams Kasper, had previously written letters and had meetings with school officials hoping to change the policy, but they refused her requests to allow her son to use the boys’ restroom.

“It broke my heart when I learned that they were singling Drew out and making him feel unwanted,” Adams Kasper said in a statement. “When he transitioned, I knew he might face some discrimination, but I never imagined that he would be disrespected and degraded by his school, too.”

In its complaint, Lambda Legal argues that the school district’s policy on transgender students is unconstitutional, both under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and Title IX of the 1972 Eduction Amendments Act.

Adams’ lawyers also plan to file a motion for a preliminary injunction that would prevent the school board from attempting to force Adams to abide by its policy.

Adams’ lawsuit echoes identical arguments made by Virginia teen Gavin Grimm and Wisconsin teen Ash Whitaker, both transgender males who sued their respective school districts for prohibiting them from using facilities that match their gender identity. Grimm’s case is expected to be argued before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to determine if he has the right to sue under Title IX. Meanwhile, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already affirmed Whitaker’s right to sue for violations of his rights under the federal statute, which prohibits discrimination based on sex.

In a statement, Adams says he was “shocked and demoralized” after he was barred from the boys’ restroom. 

“It made me feel like my school didn’t want me just because I’m transgender,” he says. “It makes me sad to be told that they don’t want to treat me like all the other kids in school. I don’t want any other students to have to feel like this.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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