An appeals court issued a major decision yesterday in favor of a transgender student whose school refused to let him use the boys’ restroom, ruling that the district failed to provide evidence that bathroom use based on gender identity “will harm it, or any of its students or parents.”
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that Kenosha Unified School District (in Wisconsin) likely violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment when it refused to let Ash Whitaker use the bathroom for boys. The court ruling could be used to protect the rights of all transgender people under the Constitution and current federal law.
Vox said the “massive” appeals court decision “has big implications.”
If existing federal law and the 14th Amendment shield trans people from discrimination, then it’s not just Whitaker’s rights that are protected here, but all trans students’. And if bans against sex discrimination in particular apply to trans people, then it’s not just students’ rights that are protected, but all trans people who face discrimination in other settings where sex discrimination is banned — so not just schools, but the workplace and housing as well.
The landmark appellate ruling comes three months after the Trump administration withdrew protections for transgender students in public schools under Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools. The Obama administration previously interpreted the law to include discrimination based on gender identity.
Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called Trump’s decision “disappointing.” Despite that change, he added, “it’s clear that a growing number of courts recognize that All Americans, regardless of gender identity, deserve full protection of the law.”
Today’s ruling is an affirmation of the rights of transgender students to live their lives free from discrimination. It sends a strong signal to schools, districts, and states that they have an obligation to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students from discrimination, and to provide an educational environment wherein they can thrive.
This decision isn’t just a win for Whitaker; it’s a win for all transgender people in the United States. The ruling, if properly utilized, could be used to protect them under the Constitution and current federal law. And that changes nearly everything in their fight for human rights.