Federal Court in Philadelphia Joins Growing Chorus Defending Trans Students

It was just over a year ago that Laverne Cox told us to google Gavin Grimm, the high school student barred from his school’s restrooms because he is transgender. America listened.

Since then, celebrities like Cox and students like Grimm have helped us understand what it means to be transgender. That new understanding is reflected in path-breaking court decisions recognizing that transgender people have the freedom to live openly at school, at work, and in the military. And it led voters to reject a recent ballot initiative that sought to exclude transgender people from restrooms that match their gender identity — a victory for the transgender community that was unthinkable when Cox stood up at last year’s Grammy Awards.

That momentum got a giant push forward yesterday from a federal appeals court in Philadelphia. The court rejected another attempt to bar transgender boys and girls from restrooms and locker rooms that other boys and girls use. And it did so in a powerful opinion affirming “the needs, humanity, and decency of transgender students.”

Cisgender students at Boyertown Area Senior High had sued to block transgender students like Aidan DeStefano from using facilities that correspond to their gender identity. They claimed that boys like Aidan are really “girls,” and that their mere presence in restrooms and locker rooms amounted to privacy violations and sexual harassment.

Last month, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals took the unusual step of rejecting those claims just minutes after the case was argued, signaling that it understood the importance of the case to students and the community. Yesterday, the court issued an opinion explaining its reasoning and displaying particular insight and empathy for transgender students.

First, the court rejected efforts to use misleading language to label transgender students as other than who they are. By calling transgender boys “girls” and transgender girls “boys,” opponents of LGBT equality hoped to sow confusion and fear about students sharing common spaces. The court saw through that tactic and embraced accurate, respectful language to describe both transgender students and their peers, becoming the first federal court of appeals to use the word “cisgender.”

Next, the court recognized that there is nothing wrong, let alone illegal, about going about daily life while being transgender. That includes using shared restrooms and locker rooms. What is offensive is comparing being transgender to the outrageous conduct involved in many sexual harassment cases, like a supervisor demanding that his employee dance nude. Yet that’s precisely the comparison the challengers made.

Finally, the court pointed out an even more basic flaw in the cruel effort to block transgender students from using the same restrooms and locker rooms as other boys and girls: Federal courts have already recognized that not only are schools not prohibited from treating transgender students equally, they are legally required to do so. That’s because discrimination based on transgender status is a form of sex discrimination barred under federal law.

As the court wrote, forcing transgender students to use facilities apart from other students “would very publicly brand all transgender students with a scarlet ‘T,’ and they should not have to endure that as the price of attending their public school.” Indeed, the court recognized that such discrimination can exacerbate the challenges transgender students already face and even be life-threatening.

Yesterday’s opinion confirmed what schools around the country have found to be true: Treating boys and girls who are transgender like other boys and girls is the right thing to do and fosters a positive school environment. And that’s good news not only for transgender students like Gavin and Aidan, but for all students.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

Why are they showing the Vietnamese flag with this article? Are the Vietnamese all transgender?

Carson

Where are you seeing the Vietnamese flag? Or did they change the article since you made your comment?

Dr. Timothy Leary

Why are they showing the Vietnamese flag with this article? Are the Vietnamese all transgender?

Anonymous

It’s not a Vietnamese flag. The blue stands for masculine, the pink is feminine and the white represents the ‘in between’ while you are transitioning. Where do you see a red flag and star?

Anonymous

The court just took the legal identity of the female gender from women and gave it to individuals with penises. We didn't even get to vote on it and weren't asked if we wanted to be called "cis" because it's only the opinions of those with penises that matters when it comes to the female gender.

Kristin

What are you talking about? Wouldn't that also mean that the court has taken the legal identity of the male gender from men, and gave it to individuals with vaginas. How dare they. We didn't even get to vote on it because it's only the opinion of those with vaginas that matter when it comes to the male gender, lmao. By the way transgender people can already legally change their gender on legal documents long before this case was decided. Modern transgender people have been legally changing their gender, and using gendered spaces that align with their gender for almost 100 years already. Also you know that transgender women face the same societal problems as any other woman with the exception of laws affecting birth control, and abortions right? Transgender women face similar levels of male violence, intimate partner violence, and rape\sexual assault as cisgender women. Oh, and cisgender is a word that was coined by a cisgender woman, biologist Dana Leland Defosse in the mid-1990's. She is an academic who was writing a paper about transgender issues, and wanted a more accurate term than not\non-transgender to describe people who identify as the gender, and sex they were born as.

Anonymous

You sound like that Rachel Dolezal when she complained about having the same problems as blacks. When society refused to let her identify as black she know longer had black problems. She now has the problem of a white woman who has to face the reality that she won't be accepted as black. I have no sympathy for a bio-male who is missappropriating my gender. If you don't like the problems that come with being a trans "woman" society won't stop you from claiming your biological, privileged, male gender. Also, yes the ruling does erode the legal definition of "male" but, as any real woman knows, our patriarchal society will always take care of the interests of those born with penises including handing them the female gender if they demand it.

Anonymous

So you are offended about being called ‘cisgender’? Are you offended about being called ‘heterosexual’ too? Feel free to dream up some other word that connotes someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth, if it upsets you that much. I’m transgender, but if it upsets you that terribly, I’m happy to call you non-transgender or whatever word you prefer to describe yourself as not transgender. I do wonder exactly what about this term upsets you, though...

As for the claim that transgender people are appropriating your identity, that’s specious. It’s like saying that gays are destroying other people’s marriages by getting married themselves. It makes no sense. Your gender is equally as valid and legitimate and accepted as it was the day before I changed my gender to male.

I used the female bathrooms for many years before transitioning. Now I use the male bathroom. It makes simple sense. Nobody suspects I am transgender and I go about my business without issue. The issue would be if I came into the women’s restroom with my gym junkie arms, deep voice, beard, tattoos, shaved heard, and started washing my hands at the sink. People would have a meltdown. Is that what you’d prefer?

Trans people don’t need to be lectured about patriarchy. We have all lived it. Most of us have lived long enough on both sides of the gender curtain to know exactly what life is like for BOTH men and women in society. On top of the years of misogyny women deal with, transgender people and especially transgender women deal with transmisogyny. They are the most hated class of women by all men. The best they can hope for in live is to blend in as cisnormative, to keep their transgender status secret, and deal with the same levels of sexual assault, gender pay gap, workplace inequity, street harassment as yourself. That’s the best their life can get.

Every transgender person has spent years on both sides of the gender curtain. We have first hand experience on both sides of the fence living with patriarchy.

Nobody is appropriating your identity. You’re identity is as good and valid and legitimate as it was yesterday.

Just me

Anonymous- you're kind of a bigot. Not only are you woefully misinformed, you're also willfully ignorant. I actually feel sorry for you simply because your brain must be extremely worn out from all the mental gymnastics you force it to do.

Anonymous

No one is "misappropriating" "your" gender. Also, trans women are real women.

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