PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania school district can allow transgender students to continue using bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their sexual identity, a federal appeals court panel ruled Thursday.
A three-judge panel heard extended arguments in the case before conferring for less than 30 minutes and ultimately affirming a lower court decision refusing to halt the Boyertown School District’s transgender student bathroom policy.
A student at the school district about 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of Philadelphia, with the help of the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit alleging the district is violating his constitutional privacy rights by allowing transgender students to use the same facilities he uses.
Five students joined the lawsuit, two of them recently.
The judges called the lower court’s ruling, “exceptionally well-reasoned.”
Alexis Lightcap, a student at Boyertown Senior High School and one of the plaintiffs, said she walked into the women’s bathroom during her junior year and saw a transgender student and froze. She said she later told a teacher and the principal who told her the district had a new policy for transgender students.
“They made me feel like I was the problem for feeling uncomfortable, unsafe and vulnerable with a boy in my bathroom,” Lightcap said. She felt she had no say in the matter, just as she felt when she and her sister were in foster care as young children, she said.
Lawyers for Lightcap and the other plaintiffs said the school district violated their right to privacy by allowing students with different physical anatomy to be in spaces previously designated for people with the same anatomical gender.
A lawyer for the school district said its policy of allowing students to use facilities corresponding to their stated gender is legal and prevents claims that the district violated the rights of transgender students to equal protection. He also noted the district has provided single-stall showers and single-stall bathrooms for students to change for gym class if they feel uncomfortable.
Ria Mar, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which intervened in the lawsuit, said the district handled the issue correctly by allowing all students equal use of the single-stall bathrooms, rather than forcing transgender students to use separate ones.
“Choosing to use that individual space and being required to use it because of who you are — that your very presence is unacceptable to others — is a very different thing,” Mar said.
There have been at least two other federal appeals court rulings in favor of transgender students who have made arguments that districts barring them from using the facilities designated for their stated gender violated their right to equal protection.
Earlier this week, a federal circuit judge in Virginia sided with transgender teen Gavin Grimm, who claimed a school board violated his rights when it banned him from using boys’ bathrooms.