On November 23, 2021, the National Women’s Law Center, along with our law firm partner Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP and 50 additional organizations committed to gender justice and LGBTQ rights, submitted a motion to file an amicus brief to the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Adams v. School Board of St. John’s County. We filed our proposed brief in support of Andrew Adams, a transgender boy who was prohibited from using the boys’ restroom at his high school in Florida. Despite overwhelming evidence that allowing transgender students to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity poses no threat to the privacy or safety of other students, Andrew’s school has continued its discriminatory restroom policy. Our brief urges the appeals court to reject these harmful myths and correctly find that the school’s restroom policy is illegal because it discriminates against transgender students.
Even though Andrew had been living as the boy that he is since 2015, the school banned him from the boys’ restroom he had been using without incident. Andrew wanted to be treated like any other boy at his school and be allowed to use the restroom without feeling ostracized or fearful. His school failed to provide him with this basic protection, instead caving to the prejudices and misconceptions that have animated so many attacks on LGBTQ rights across the country. The school’s discrimination was not only wrong but also illegal under federal law, which is why Andrew, represented by Lambda Legal, sued his school in June 2017.
Andrew’s lawsuit has gone through many twists and turns in the last four years. In July 2018, Andrew won his trial and the court ruled that Andrew must be allowed to use the correct restroom, in addition to awarding him monetary damages. The court was clear that the school’s discriminatory bathroom policy violated Andrew’s right to be free from sex discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools. But the school refused to accept the trial court’s ruling and, instead of simply changing its bathroom policy, appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit, prompting us to file our first amicus brief in support of Andrew. In August 2020, the appeals court upheld Andrew’s win, and again when it revisited the decision in July 2021. Despite losing three times already, the school district has continued to push back in defense of its discriminatory restroom policy. And in August, they convinced the 11th Circuit to rehear the appeal en banc, meaning in front of the entire 11th Circuit court, and so Andrew’s win is at risk yet again.
Our Amicus Brief
The 11th Circuit and the school district have incorrectly framed the appeal as one about whether sex-separated bathrooms are allowed in schools at all. Allowing students to use the restroom in line with their gender identity would not mean the end of all sex-separated restrooms. Hundreds of schools across the country have nondiscrimination policies, permitting students to use the correct restroom, while keeping separate boys’ and girls’ restrooms.
To justify its discriminatory policy, the school relies on outdated and offensive myths about the supposed risk transgender students pose to other students when they are permitted to use the restroom in line with their gender identity. We and other advocates have been saying it for years: there is zero evidence that allowing transgender students to use the correct bathroom puts anyone else at risk. Indeed, as advocates for student survivors, we know these harmful policies do not keep students safe.
Discriminatory restroom policies, on the other hand, do pose a risk to transgender students, who already face high rates of discrimination and violence. Schools are placing these students directly in harm’s way by forcing them to either use restrooms that do not align with their gender identity—where they are more likely to face harassment and bullying—or use separate gender-neutral bathrooms that can be inconvenient and make them feel singled out. Due to the stigma caused by discriminatory restroom policies, some students forgo using the restroom at school altogether, which can cause serious health problems. Additionally, discriminatory restroom policies are also used to target cisgender girls who do not conform to traditional gender stereotypes and invites gender policing that often lands hardest on Black and brown girls. Schools that truly care about the privacy, safety, and wellbeing of their students should abandon their discriminatory restroom policies and stop perpetuating false narratives that put students in danger.
Our Commitment to LGBTQ Rights
At NWLC, we are advocates for students’ civil rights, including LGBTQ students and student survivors of sexual violence. We have long defended the rights of all students to access a safe educational environment free from sex discrimination. While attacks continue to threaten the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ students across the country, we are committed to calling out inaccurate and dangerous myths that animate these arguments at every opportunity. NWLC is grateful to courageous students like Andrew who are shining a light on discrimination, with the hope that, one day, all students can attend school with safety and dignity, and with full protection under our civil rights laws.