Metro Weekly

Supreme Court leaves Pennsylvania school district’s trans-friendly restroom policy in place

Supreme Court refuses to hear lawsuit brought by students who object to sharing facilities with trans students

U.S. Supreme Court – Credit: Ian Koski/flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a lawsuit challenging a Pennsylvania school district’s policy allowing transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity, thereby allowing the policy to remain in place.

In declining to hear the case of Doe v. Boyertown Area School District, the high court, without comment, left in place a sweeping ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that explicitly rejected the rationale underlying the lawsuit — namely, that the mere presence of transgender individuals in single-sex spaces threatens the health, wellbeing, or safety of cisgender, or non-transgender, individuals.

In the ruling, issued in full last June, Appeals Court Judge Theodore McKee wrote that Boyertown Area School District had crafted a policy that respected “the needs, humanity, and decency of transgender students” by allowing them to access spaces consistent with their gender identity.

The appeals court concurred with a lower court’s finding that allowing transgender students in sex-segregated facilities did not violate cisgender students’ right to privacy, nor their rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 — noting that the law merely states that schools may provide single-sex facilities, so long as they are comparable to other single-sex facilities, but are not required to do so.

The 3rd Circuit also previously noted that under Boyertown’s current policy, any student, regardless of gender identity, is allowed to use gender-neutral or single-user facilities if they feel uncomfortable in shared facilities.

The lawsuit was filed by the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom — best known for its legal challenges to pro-LGBTQ laws or polices — on behalf of a group of anonymous students, headed by cisgender boy “Joel Doe” and his parents.

Doe and the other students claimed they were uncomfortable sharing spaces with people they consider to be a separate gender from themselves, even calling the district’s policy a form of “sexual harassment.”

The American Civil Liberties Union subsequently intervened in the case on behalf of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a coalition of LGBTQ youth leaders and youth organizations, and on behalf of transgender student Aidan DeStefano, who graduated from Boyertown Area Senior High School last year.

The ACLU successfully argued on behalf of its clients that transgender students pose no risk to their cisgender peers.

In fact, a recent study finds that it is transgender students who are barred from accessing school facilities consistent with their gender identity, like Virginia student Gavin Grimm or Wisconsin student Ashton Whitaker, who face a greater likelihood of being sexually assaulted than their cisgender peers.

“This is an enormous victory for transgender students across the country,” Ria Rabacco Mar, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement. “Boyertown’s schools chose to be inclusive and welcoming of transgender students in 2016, a decision the courts have affirmed again and again.

“This lawsuit sought to reverse that hard-won progress by excluding transgender students from school facilities that other students use. That would have increased the stigma and discrimination that transgender students already face,” Mar added. “Thankfully, today’s announcement allows schools to move forward with policies that support transgender students.”

DeStefano issued his own response praising the Supreme Court’s decision to let the 3rd Circuit’s ruling stand.

“By the time I graduated high school, I was using the boys’ bathroom and participating on the boys’ cross country team. I felt like I belonged and had the confidence I needed to continue with my education,” he said in a statement. “I’m glad the Supreme Court is allowing schools like mine to continue supporting transgender students.”

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

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