Lambda Legal to 11th Circuit Court: School District Must Treat Transgender Students Equally

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December 5, 2019
Plaintiff Drew Adams and his mother Erica Kasper after oral argument on his case outside the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Today, Lambda Legal asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to affirm a lower court ruling holding that a suburban Jacksonville, Florida, school district must treat transgender student Drew Adams equally by allowing him to use the restroom that matches his gender identity.

“All I ever wanted from my school was to be treated like any other boy, and to have the same opportunity to thrive and learn as my peers,” said Drew Adams, 19, a former student at Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida.

“It’s frustrating and stigmatizing that I was singled out from my peers and treated as unfit to share common spaces with them. And now, on top of that, school officials insist on fighting in the courts to continue discriminating against transgender students like me.

"I hope my case sends a message to schools across the country that no transgender students should end up feeling stigmatized and humiliated like I did.”

In July, 2018, the U.S District Court for the Middle District of Florida ordered the St. John’s County School Board to allow Adams to use the boys’ restrooms at Nease High School, like all other boys.

In December 2017, Drew’s case (Adams v. The School Board of St. Johns County, Florida) became the country’s first ever to have a trial involving a transgender student’s equal access to restrooms. After the district court’s order last July, the school district appealed to the Eleventh Circuit seeking to maintain its discriminatory policy, leading to today’s oral argument.

“Today, we asked the Court to affirm the trial victory that ruled that Drew must be allowed to use the boys’ restroom,” said Tara Borelli, Counsel at Lambda Legal.

“The district court was very clear when it stated that the law requires that Drew be treated like every other boy. Discriminatory policies like the one here send a message that transgender students like Drew are somehow less deserving of the same safe, respectful learning environment than other children.

"As the district court found, schools must provide all students with equal treatment at school, including transgender students.”

“I can’t believe that we had to go to court in the first place to defend my son’s dignity. As parents of a transgender kid, we are very supportive of our son because we understood early on that affirming and supporting him was the right thing to do for his wellbeing.” said Erica Kasper, Drew’s mother.

“We don’t understand how any school thinks it’s okay to discriminate against a child simply because they are transgender.”

Drew Adams was an honor student at Nease High School. Currently, Drew attends the University of Central Florida, where he’s studying psychology and political science with the goal of helping other LGBTQ youth.

Drew has been an active member of his local community as a volunteer at local hospitals, and with organizations that support LGBTQ youth. He plays several musical instruments, and enjoys jiu jitsu and video games.

Drew began living as the boy he is in 2015. He used the boys’ restroom when he started his freshman year at Nease High School without any incident. But, after an anonymous report was made, he was told he could only use gender-neutral restrooms, which separated him from his peers and treated him as unfit to share communal facilities with others.

The case began in June 2017, when Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf Drew Adams arguing that St. Johns County School Board’s discriminatory restroom policy sent a purposeful message that transgender students in the school district are undeserving of the same privacy, respect, and protections afforded to other students.

Lambda Legal argued that the school district’s policy to exclude transgender students from the restrooms that match their gender is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on sex in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The district court ruled for Drew on both counts.

Read the brief here.

Tara Borelli, Diana Flynn, Paul D. Castillo, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, and Taylor Brown are handling the matter for Lambda Legal. They are joined by Kirsten Doolittle of Aequitas Counsel; and Jennifer Altman, Markenzy Lapointe, Shani Rivaux, Aryeh Kaplan, Richard Segal, Cynthia Robertson, William Miller, and Robert Boyd of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

Learn about Drew's story.