‘Massive Win’: Court Rules Transgender People Entitled to Disabilities Act Protections

LGBTQ+ rights advocates on Tuesday celebrated Tuesday after a federal court became the first in the U.S. to rule that transgender people who suffer from gender dysphoria must be protected from discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Rewire News Group called the ruling in Williams v. Kincaid “a win for gender-affirming care.”

The case stemmed from the experience of Kesha Williams, a transgender woman who was incarcerated in Fairfax County, Virginia in 2018.

“The disorder that my client now has did not exist, at least diagnostically… We must apply a modern understanding.”

When jail staff found out Williams was transgender, they housed her with men, harrassed her, confiscated her bras, and frequently refused to provide her with the hormone treatments she’d been taking for 15 years.

Williams filed a lawsuit arguing the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office had violated her rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), with her lawyers arguing that she should have been protected from discrimination under the law.

They argued that the ADA should extend protections to people with gender dysphoria—defined as the “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.”

A district court ruled against Williams last year, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Tuesday reversed that decision.

In 1990, when the ADA was signed into law, it did not mention gender dysphoria but explicitly excluded “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments” from the protections it offered.

As The Washington Post reported in May while the appeals court was considering Williams’ case, right-wing policymakers pushed for the exclusion of “gender identity disorders” along with pedophilia, voyeurism, and exhibitionism, classifying all as “sexual behavior disorders.”

Continuing to exclude people with gender dysphoria from discrimination protections would make the ADA unconstitutional, Williams argued.

“The disorder that my client now has did not exist, at least diagnostically” when the ADA was signed into law, Joshua Erlich told the court. “We must apply a modern understanding.”

In an amicus brief, LGBTQ+ rights groups including GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the National Center for Transgender Equality wrote that gender dysphoria “results from an atypical interaction of sex hormones with the developing brain.”

“This atypical interaction, which results in a person being born with circulating hormones inconsistent with their gender identity, is a physical impairment,” said the groups.

In what rights activist Erin Reed called a “massive win for transgender people,” the appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Williams “plausibly alleged that gender dysphoria does not fall within the ADA’s exclusion.”

Williams’s case against Sheriff Stacy Kincaid’s office alleging disability discrimination will now be able to proceed.

First seen in common dreams

Hartford Public Schools adopt policy protecting transgender, nonconforming students

Hartford — A gender-nonconforming student’s face lit up when Jackie Harris-Stone, a Farmington resident who has children in the Hartford Public Schools system, showed the school district’s new “Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth” policy to the student.

“Remember all the trouble you had last year?” Harris-Stone recalled telling the student as they spoke at the Hartford Board of Education’s meeting Tuesday. “This bit will stop that. Your district says it cares about you.”

The school board unanimously adopted the comprehensive policy during its meeting at Weaver High School on Tuesday.

“The Hartford Board of Education is dedicated to creating an environment that is physically and emotionally and intellectually safe for all of the individuals who attend our schools and serve our students,” school board Vice Chairman Rev. AJ Johnson said, reading the policy’s preamble. “This policy is designed in keeping with these mandates to create a safe learning environment for all students and ensure all students have equal access to all school programs and activities.”

It’s important for us to stand up for equity for all our children and not be afraid of the naysayers,” school board Second Vice Chair Kimberly Oliver added.

The policy addresses numerous points, including privacy, official records, names and pronouns, gender-segregated activities, restroom and locker room accessibility, interscholastic sports (“Transgender and gender non-conforming students shall be permitted to participate in interscholastic athletics in a manner consistent with their gender identity and in compliance with the applicable regulations of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association”) and dress codes.

“This policy sets out guidelines for schools and district staff to address the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming students and clarifies how state law should be implemented in situations where questions may arise about how to protect the legal rights or safety of such students,” the policy said. “This policy does not anticipate every situation that might occur with respect to transgender or gender non-conforming students and the needs of each transgender or gender non-conforming student must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

The policy also requires the superintendent of schools to provide for the training of district staff in transgender sensitivity, as well as “developmentally age-appropriate training” for all students.

Several people, including Harris-Stone, enthusiastically endorsed the policy.

“This policy is going to make the lives of transgender and nonbinary and gender nonconforming students better, safer and, in some cases, literally longer,” Harris-Stone said, adding that given a school district of Hartford’s size, up to 13 students “will not commit suicide with proper support like this.”

“That’s good work,” she said, noting that the possible hostilities the school board faces from people who object to the policy highlights its necessity. “Your policy is the first step in normalizing that transgender students have unique needs that need to be taken care of even if not everybody doesn’t understand. Thank you for caring about our trans kids.”

Lindsey Pasquale, the national northeast regional director of PFLAG, said they were impressed with how the school board handled the policy.

“This is really comprehensive,” they said. “This is a step, and as you go forward you still want to continue to look at education for your staff, education and engagement for your student body and baseline survey of attitudes of [the] student body and staff and every few years do a checkpoint. This is a big benefit for the student body.”

On its Facebook page, PFLAG Hartford commended Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, school board Chairman Philip Rigueur, Johnson “and the entire Hartford Public School Board of Education in this moment.”

“PFLAG Hartford looks forward to seeing how these words are now carried forward and put into action,” the post said. “Most important of all, we are really happy for the students in the Hartford school system tonight.”

Carol Gale, president of the Hartford Teachers Federation, also thanked the school board for adopting the policy,

“Thank you in your efforts in making Hartford Public Schools safe and welcoming to all our students,” she said. “Thank you for recognizing the training of staff is important in order to carry this out. Equally important is recognizing transgender youth, as all youth, are growing and developing which also means they may be exploring and experimenting as they seek to define themselves or remain undefined. Thank you for capturing this in your recognition this policy does not anticipate every situation that might occur with trans or nonconforming students and their needs must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

This article first appeared in the Courant

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