We’ve had a number of lawsuits related to transgender issues percolating through the courts for the past ten years without any sort of final resolution being reached. That may change with the arrival of a Florida bathroom policy case at the 11th Circuit. This one comes out of Nease High School in Ponte Vedra and is about as stripped down and basic as you could imagine. The school’s policy isn’t tied to any sort of federal guidance or saddled with conditions. It simply states that students will use the bathroom that aligns with their physical anatomy regardless of how they “identify” in terms of gender. The one twist here is that the suit was originally brought by a female-to-male transgender student. (The Hill)
A federal appeals court will reportedly decide whether a Florida school district must allow students to use the bathroom assigned to the gender with which they identify rather than the gender they were born.
The case before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals began Thursday after district officials from the St. Johns County school district appealed the lower court victory won by Drew Adams, a transgender former student of Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., NBC News reported.
The 11th circuit court would be the highest court to issue a ruling on the matter of transgender students’ bathroom preferences since the Supreme Court sent a previous case in Virginia back to the lower courts following the Trump administration’s withdrawal of federal guidance on bathroom use in schools.
This case is notable for a couple of reasons, mostly to do with the Supreme Court’s reluctance to tackle divisive “social justice” issues. The top court recently heard arguments in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. EEOC, but that seems unlikely to provide much clarity. As I’ve written here before, that case offers the court an opportunity to rule very narrowly on issues of employment discrimination and dress codes, both of which already have plenty of precedents, without having to deal with the underlying issue of the definitions of gender and sex.
As I mentioned above, the court has managed to duck this question every time it’s come up in the past. In one case, a long-standing legal battle wound up being declared moot after the Trump administration withdrew Title IX guidelines regarding transgender students. Others were simply refused, with lower court rulings allowed to stand.
But Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County, Florida appears to be different. It’s not really resting on federal Title IX guidance, nor does it revolve around compromises such as offering single-user facilities for non-conforming students. It boils the question down to basic anatomy.
One possible twist complicating this case, as I mentioned at the top, is the fact that the student in question had “transitioned” from female to male, rather than the opposite. There are no indications that the boys in the school were complaining about her using the male bathrooms, as you might expect. It was actually some of the girls who complained. Boys are probably less likely to be upset about a girl walking into the bathroom than in the reverse situation. But that really shouldn’t give the Supreme Court an excuse to duck out of the controversy.
No matter which way the 11th Circuit rules, the case will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court. And with at least two lower courts giving conflicting rulings, the justices may finally feel compelled to weigh in. Because this question touches on so many social issues and affects everything from privacy rights to the future viability of competitive women’s sports, a definitive answer from the Supremes would have wide-ranging consequences. What does it mean to be male or female? Can schools, governments or any other institutions simply toss out centuries of accepted medical science and fundamental privacy rights by redefining the word “gender?” Is gender dysphoria still a mental illness or are we going to be ordered to accept this madness as “our new reality?” We may finally get an answer to these questions when the dust settles on this case.