Federal Appeals Court Upholds Bathroom Policies for Transgender Students

PHILADELPHIA — Transgender students in Pennsylvania will continue to be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identities after a federal appeals court ruled to uphold the policy on May 24.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of the Boyertown Area School District, which passed the policy on restroom and locker room use two years ago. Transgender students and their advocates took the ruling as a win, saying maintaining this policy is critical to transgender students’ well-being and safety. On the contrary, students who sued the Boyertown Area School District, said the policies violate the privacy of students who are not transgender.

The ruling was found following a lawsuit filed by a Pennsylvania school district student who aligned himself with the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom — claiming the district is violating his constitutional privacy rights by allowing transgender students to use the same facilities as him, with five students subsequently joining the lawsuit. They argued that allowing transgender classmates to change alongside them in locker rooms violated the privacy of students who are not transgender since the space was once designated for people with the same anatomical gender. One student, identified as Joel Doe in court documents, said he learned of the policy only while undressing in the locker room and saw a transgender classmate doing the same, according to CBS Local Philadelphia.

Christiana Holcomb, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom who is representing the students said that the [school] administration has a responsibility to protect student privacy and safety. Holcomb also stated that the school should accommodate transgender students in other ways, perhaps directing them to use other facilities, arguing that the administration cannot violate a student’s bodily privacy.

A three-judge panel heard extensive arguments in the case before deliberating for less than 30 minutes to ultimately sustain a lower court decision, denying to terminate the Boyertown School District’s transgender student bathroom policy, according to CBS Local Philadelphia.

A lawyer working for the school district said its policy of allowing students to use facilities aligning with their gender identification is legal and prevents claims that the district violated the rights of transgender students to equal protection. He also highlighted the private and single-stall showers and bathrooms for students provided by the school district.

Ria Mar, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which intervened in the lawsuit, said the district handled the issue correctly by allowing all students equal use of the single-stall bathrooms, rather than forcing transgender students to use separate ones. Mar stated that choosing to use that individual space and being required to use it because of who you are is a very different thing.

Recently, there have been two other federal appeals ruling in favor of transgender students who sued their school districts by contesting that districts excluding them from using the facilities designated for their stated gender violated their right to equal protection.

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