A transgender student attending Allen D. Nease High School sued the St. Johns County school district in federal court Wednesday to defend his right to use the boy’s bathrooms.
Drew Adams, 16, a junior, has lived as a boy since 2015 and has been open about being transgender since freshman year. He dresses as a boy, is undergoing hormone treatments, and is a Gay/Straight Alliance student leader.
One day during his freshman year, he was pulled from a classroom and told he must use only gender neutral bathrooms because someone complained anonymously.
Erica Adams, his mother, said she talked with school officials who told her the decision came from the district. She then talked with two assistant superintendents who told her that forcing transgender students to use gender neutral facilities is “best practice,” she said.
Nease High at the time had only two gender neutral bathrooms, one in an art classroom and one in the main office. Briefly a staff bathroom was made available but that has since become off-limits, Drew Adams said.
Drew now has to walk past multiple boy’s bathrooms and far from his classes to use a bathroom. He also tries to limit his liquid intake and takes other measures to comply with the new requirement, Erica Adams said; sometimes he’s late to class.
Then, there’s the message to Drew and other students, that some students aren’t good enough to use the same bathrooms as others. Drew Adams said that before the complaint, he never was hassled or questioned about his bathroom use, “not even a funny look.”
“When the school district took away my right to do what other students do, I felt incredibly isolated,” he said. “It signalled to the entire student body that I’m somehow different.”
Most students and school staff who know him are still friendly and accepting, Drew Adams said. They refer to him as a male and use his chosen name.
But the district is violating federal Title IX education laws and the 14th Amendment equal protection guarantees by discriminating against a student based on sex, said Paul Castillo, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, which represents the teen. Lambda Legal is a national organization seeking civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV.
Castillo pointed out that in May a Wisconsin high school student won an appellate case under similar circumstances. In that case, a three-judge panel found unanimously that student has a right to be treated as a boy and that the damage to the student was greater and more obvious than the potential damage that high school said might impact other male students.
That appellate court oversees Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
Castillo added that if students complain the St. Johns district should instead offer those students a different bathroom, not force that option on students like Drew Adams.
“If any student wants additional privacy, those students can opt to use a gender-neutral restroom,” Castillo said.
St. Johns County officials don’t see it that way.
“We disagree with the plaintiff’s interpretation of the law,” said Superintendent Tim Forson in a written statement. “Beyond that it would be inappropriate for us to try this case in the media. We had no knowledge of the complaint filed today before a press conference was held. We will work through the legal process with our school board and its general counsel.”
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