Metro Weekly

Federal court in Maryland says school district’s restroom policy violates transgender student’s rights

Judge refuses to issue preliminary injunction, but dismisses Talbot County school board's request for dismissal

Photo: Nikolai Nolan, via Wikimedia.

In an historic decision, a federal court in Maryland has found that transgender students’ ability to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity is protected by both federal and state law.

Max Brennan, a transgender male, sued the Talbot County Board of Education after the Eastern Shore school district adopted a policy to force him to use separate gender-neutral restrooms and locker rooms because he is transgender.

U.S. District Court Judge George K. Russell, III, ruled that Brennan’s right to use facilities matching his gender identity was protected under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational settings. That ruling — the first of its kind by a Maryland court — aligns with other federal courts that have found transgender students are protected by Title IX

Russell also found that Brennan was protected from discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a finding affirmed by several courts in other states. One such example of that is the Pine-Richland case in the Pittsburgh area, where a school district settled a lawsuit with three transgender students after a federal judge ruled that a policy barring them from restrooms matching their respective gender identities violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“M.A.B.’s claims come down to ‘a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy,'” Russell wrote in his decision. “This Court finds that Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause provide M.A.B. grounds to do so.”

Additionally, Russell made history by issuing the first court ruling finding that transgender people are protected under the Maryland State Constitution.

In 2015, Maryland amended its state laws to prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals based on their gender identity in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations. But the status of transgender students in public schools was left uncertain, with each individual school district adopting its own policies with respect to restroom and locker room usage.

“We hope this decision is a wake-up call for the Talbot County School Board,” said Jennifer Kent, managing attorney with FreeState Justice, which is representing Brennan, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Maryland. “School systems in Maryland should know the law and should be protecting students who are transgender from discrimination, not singling them out for separate and unequal treatment.”

“Courts across the country have recognized that Title IX and the Constitution prohibit schools from singling out transgender students for different and discriminatory treatment,” Josh Block, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement. “We will continue to fight on behalf of Max and other transgender students to ensure that these stigmatizing and harmful policies are a thing of the past.”

Yet even though Russell denied Talbot County Public Schools’ motion to dismiss the case, he also dismissed (without prejudice) Brennan’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the school district from enforcing its policy while the case is being resolved. He ruled that a preliminary injunction was not necessary at this time, because Brennan is not taking physical education classes this semester.

However, because Russell dismissed the request “without prejudice,” Brennan and his lawyers can refile the request for an injunction at a later time when Brennan begins taking physical education classes. If he were to be barred from the boys’ restroom and locker room, Brennan would likely suffer “irreparable harm” at the hands of administrators enforcing the policy of segregating transgender students from their cisgender peers.

Brennan celebrated this week’s decision as a victory and a first step in getting the courts to recognize his legal rights.

“I am extremely happy with the court’s decision, and think it is a great step in the right direction,” Brennan said in a statement. “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.”

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!