A 15-YEAR-OLD transgender student who had been barred by his Maryland high school from using the boy’s locker room, which aligned with his gender identity, just scored an important legal victory. A federal judge in Baltimore ruled this week that singling the boy out is discriminatory, “harms his health and well-being,” and is barred by federal and state law.
Other school districts should pay attention and realize that fair treatment of transgender children is not just the right thing to do, but is, in fact, the law. Likewise, we hope this ruling — consistent with other federal court decisions in similar cases — prompts the federal Education Department to revisit the wobbly reasoning used to justify its decision to stop handling complaints from transgender students who have been victimized by prejudice and barred from school bathrooms and locker rooms.
The Trump administration has made no secret of its animus toward transgender people. The president tweeted that they would be barred from the military, and early in his administration, the Education and Justice departments overturned a 2016 guidance by the Obama administration directing public schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that aligned with their gender identity.
Left unanswered then was how the federal civil rights division would handle complaints from these students. Last month the Education Department said restroom complaints from transgender students are not covered by the 1972 Title IX federal civil rights law. “Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity,” spokeswoman Liz Hill told BuzzFeed News. That parsing of the law conflicts with rulings of two federal appeals courts, the highest courts to consider the scope of Title IX. The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 6th and 7th Circuits held that Title IX does guarantee that transgender students be treated consistent with their gender identity. The courts suspended restrictive school restroom policies, determining that transgender students were likely to win at trial. The two rulings, while not binding nationwide, are the law in the jurisdictions covered by the two circuits.
Now comes the same reasoning from U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III in the case of Max Brennan, a teenager living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore who had been barred from using facilities that corresponded with his gender identity because of a policy of Talbot County’s school board. Max was able to bring his case because of the legal assistance he received from the American Civil Liberties Union and FreeState Justice.
Good that these organizations were willing to fight for Max’s rights and get him a measure of justice. Shouldn’t that also be the duty of the Education Department and its civil rights office?
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