Courts & the Law, News

Supreme Court will not hear PA case on transgender bathroom policy

A case challenging a Pennsylvania school district’s bathroom policy for transgender students won’t be heard by the Supreme Court. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme court declined to hear an appeal dealing with a Pennsylvania school district’s policy on which restrooms and locker rooms can be used by transgender students.

As reported by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, the court’s decision keeps in place a lower court’s ruling upholding the district’s policy, which allows some transgender students to make the decision for themselves based on their gender identity rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.

The decision is being hailed as a victory for transgender rights and, in Pennsylvania, a victory for local governance on these issues.

From the Pennsylvania Capital-Star:

The legal dispute began when students of the Boyertown Area School District complained that their privacy was violated when transgender students were allowed to use locker rooms that aligned with their gender identities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit last July upheld the district’s policy, ruling that “the presence of transgender students in the locker and restrooms is no more offensive to constitutional or Pennsylvania law privacy interests than the presence of the other students who are not transgender.”

The 3rd Circuit warned that requiring transgender students to use single-user or birth sex-aligned facilities is its own form of discrimination.

“We’re happy the Supreme Court has recognized the lower court’s decision here,” said Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The lower court’s decision in this is a really strong endorsement of the need for protections for transgender students.”

The case has obvious resonances in North Carolina, where in 2016 Charlotte’s attempt to pass a non-discrimination policy involving transgender people and restrooms led the North Carolina General Assembly to pass the restrictive HB2. The law prevented local governments from passing such non-discrimination policies.

The legal and political battle over the law — and its successor, HB142 — continues. Bills fully repealing HB2 continue to be introduced but have not been given a hearing by the General Assembly’s Republican majority.

In an interview with Policy Watch earlier this year Chris Brook, then legal director of the ACLU of NC, spoke to the continued harm HB2/142 does to the state. Last month Brook became a judge on the North Carolina Supreme Court.

“What led Charlotte to adopt their discrimination ordinance is that those sorts of anti-discrimination ordinances are best practices in the 21st century,” Brook said. “The inverse  of that is that saying that your state is going to discriminate against the LGBTQ community or make it harder for local protections to be adopted for the LGBTQ protections is a really good way of telling businesses that want to ensure they’re able to attract and retain the best talent, that they shouldn’t be resettling in North Carolina, they shouldn’t be bringing their jobs to North Carolina.”

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