Here’s How A Landmark Ruling On Trans Teens’ Rights Could Have A Colossal Impact On Schools

Texas legislators are at this moment considering a special session, and, as Zack Ford notes, that means the threat of a statewide transgender “bathroom” amendment applying to public schools is still a very real. LT. Gov. Dan Patrick, who’d earlier in the year introduced a broader anti-trans bill, is the force behind getting a special session, since the legislative session ended on May 29, solely for the purpose of passing anti-trans legislation.

But a landmark ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday could complicate, diminish or thwart Patrick’s effort, or even eventually help roll back the law if it is passed and signed by Governor Greg Abbott. 

That’s because the big win out of the 7th Circuit could have ramifications nationwide, even before the issue of transgender students rights gets to the Supreme Court. Ashton “Ash” Whitaker, a 17-year‐old high school senior, sued his Wisconsin school district, which wouldn’t allow him to use the boys’ restroom. The appeals court upheld a district court injunction and ruled that the school’s bathroom policy violated the 14th Amendment on equal protection and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The ruling comes after the Supreme Court recently punted on the case of Gavin Grimm, the Virginia teen whom the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled had the right to use the boys’ room at his school. The high court, after first taking the case, vacated the lower court ruling after the Trump administration rescinded the affirmative guidelines to schools on transgender students, which were issued by the Obama administration. The 4th Circuit’s decision had relied in part on those federal guidelines. But the 7th Circuit Court handed down its ruling without relying on the guidelines. As HuffPost’s Christian Farias reports

That change in positions led the Supreme Court to duck the issue altogether, leaving plaintiffs like Whitaker and Grimm to argue that Title IX itself — which doesn’t expressly cover gender identity — nonetheless covers claims of “sex” stereotyping against trans students.

The 7th Circuit embraced that approach in Tuesday’s ruling, suggesting that because “a transgender individual does not conform to the sex‐based stereotypes of the sex that he or she was assigned at birth,” it’s unlawful to stigmatize a student based those stereotypes.

The ruling not only opens the door for trans students’ rights to get to the Supreme Court again, but it could influence other circuit courts around the country to rule similarly. It could have an impact on legislators like those in Texas, and on school districts in Texas ― which would be given the choice to allow trans students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity (or not) if the law is passed in a special session. Many of those districts, as well as many across the country, may be swayed to support equality now. 

“This is a big, big, big, huge, huge deal,” noted Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights about the ruling. “This sends the strongest possible message on where the federal courts are heading on this issue. As a practical matter, this will probably motivate many school districts across the country to treat transgender students equally.”

Amidst a lot of terrible realities we’re facing on civil rights in the Trump era, that is very welcome great news.

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