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Florida teen wins transgender rights case with federal appellate court ruling

The 11th Circuit affirmed a lower court's ruling that banning transgender students from using a restroom that matches their gender is unconstitutional.
Credit: AP Photo/ Ron Harris
Transgender student Drew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, in Atlanta. Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, won a lower court ruling last year ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom.

ATLANTA — On Friday, a federal court ruled that it is unconstitutional to ban transgender students from using a restroom that matches their gender identity. 

Judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit said they affirmed a lower court's ruling on the matter because "a public school may not punish its students for gender conformity," CBS News reports

The federal court, which is based in Atlanta, heard the case of Drew Adams, a 19-year-old former student of Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Adams, who is transgender, used the boys' restroom in Nese High School without issue until an anonymous report was filed, according to Lambda Legal. After that report, school officials told Adams he was only allowed to use gender-neutral restrooms.

Adams then worked with Lambda Legal to sue the school board in June 2017. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, a federal court in Jacksonville, ruled in favor of Adams in 2018, but Adams' school board appealed the decision last year.

"The school board's bathroom policy, as applied to Mr. Adams, singled him out for different treatment because of his transgender status," the judges ruled on Friday. "A public school may not punish its students for gender nonconformity. Neither may a public school harm transgender students by establishing arbitrary, separate rules for their restroom use. The evidence at trial confirms that Mr. Adams suffered both these indignities."

The judges said that the school board did not uphold the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal rights, and Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in education. 

CBS News reached out to the St. Johns County School District for comment. The district has not yet responded. 

According to Lambda Legal, Adams' case is the first trial involving a transgender student's equal access to restrooms in the country.

“Today, the court sent a clear message that schools must treat transgender students with the same dignity and respect as any other student,” said Tara Borelli, Counsel at Lambda Legal. 

“The trial court was correct when it ruled that the law requires that Drew Adams be treated like every other boy and be allowed to use the boys’ restroom. We are glad the court saw the school board’s policy as unjust and discriminatory, and affirmed the inherent dignity and worth of transgender students.” 

“I am very happy to see justice prevail, after spending almost my entire high school career fighting for equal treatment,” Drew Adams said. “High school is hard enough without having your school separate you from your peers and mark you as inferior. I hope this decision helps save other transgender students from having to go through that painful and humiliating experience.” 

In 2016, then-President Obama mandated that public schools allow transgender students to use the restrooms that align with their gender identity. After taking office in 2017, President Trump rescinded those orders

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