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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Estelle

Transgender people come in male and female. A person's gender has nothing to do with genitalia. You don't get to vote on another person's gender. You live your life and let others live theirs.

Anonymous

I found the TERF!

Dee Omally: Aut...

Genitalia is for excretion, and as we know to sustain our species. It possesses no autonomous thought---as we also know it's function as a body tool proceeds from the mind of the tool owner. For too long, and not without veracity given the abuse of this tool, many focus on genitalia to convict transgender folk of essentially having sex offender proclivities. Having been thrust into 8-years of poverty after my skillset self-esteem totally evaporated after an employer considered me to be such a threat based solely on such a heart-piercing presumption. Ironically, I had chosen not to hide like a sex offender given I naively believed my trans-medical journey would be given due regard--today I feel like one having been cast out of employment as if I were one. The damage is real. The pain still refuses to flee. I still have been unable to restore my skillset self-esteem. I'm psychological damaged goods---not from fixing my body but from being treated like a sex offender despite having no such proclivity in history or deed. Thank you ACLU and the federal courts for saving our lives literally and figuratively.

Anonymous

Genitalia is for procreation and that is what the scientific definitions of "male" and "female" are based off of.

Anonymous

“Science” has widely recognised that humans are diverse, and sexual dimorphism has never been absolute.

You think every human is unambiguously male or female?

Try telling that to a person born with mixed reproductive tracts - with a vagina and undescended testicles. Try telling that to someone born with incomplete reproductive organs that can fulfill neither reproductive roles. Tell that to a person who has mixed genitals of both sexes.

You think chromosomes are sexually dimorphic? Try telling that to someone who chromosomes are neither male nor female. Try telling that to someone whose chromosomes are X0, or XXY, or XYY, or XXYY, or XYYY, or XXXY, and so on. Male and female are stereotypical, but they are not absolute.

Humans are diverse. Gender diverse people exist, including intersex and transgender people. There is increasing consensus that gender identity is actually part of sexual formation, and is determined by what hormones the foetus’s brain is exposed to in utero. It’s determined long before birth, and is just another aspect of sex like primary and secondary sex characteristics, hormones, chromosomes, and genomes.

Nature loves diversity. Society hates it.

All conservative politics is based on the belief that our own experiences of life are the only true and legitimate ones, and that anyone else with a different experience is lesser, a liar, misguided, confused or inferior. That kind of intolerance for diversity is all I see in your post. I saw it 30 years ago in discussions about gay people. It can be seen 30 years before that when people were debating the rights of black people to participate in society.

Kate McAllister

I am so glad to learn that we are making progress. Well done to everyone who fought for equality and dignity.

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