Americans United and our allies this week urged a federal appeals court to affirm that an eastern Pennsylvania school district has the right to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity.
Transgender children more frequently face discrimination and harassment than their peers. As AU has noted in other court cases and in opposition to legislation proposing anti-transgender bathroom bans, this bias often is rooted in religious beliefs about gender identity and sexual orientation.
Everyone has the right to believe, or not, as they see fit, but no one has the right to use his or her beliefs as a reason to discriminate against others. Religious freedom is about fairness. It is unfair to deny the humanity of transgender students and prevent them from using appropriate facilities – which in turn prevents them from being equal citizens in their own schools and communities.
That’s why the Boyertown Area School District adopted a policy in 2016 that allows transgender students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and related facilities that align with their gender identities. These policies not only create a safer, more inclusive environment for transgender students, they also improve the school environment for all students.
Religion cannot be used to justify discrimination.
But a few Boyertown residents want to segregate transgender students from their peers. Last year, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sued Boyertown on behalf of four anonymous students and a few of their parents, who allege that the students’ privacy is violated by allowing transgender students to use the same facilities as them.
A U.S. District Court judge in Pennsylvania last summer denied ADF’s request to block the school’s inclusive policy. Judge Edward Smith wrote in his opinion that ADF was unlikely to win the case and had not shown that the plaintiffs were suffering irreparable harm.
ADF appealed and the case is now pending before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Tuesday, Americans United joined seven civil rights and education advocacy organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Boyertown’s policy.
“(T)he District Court’s ruling is supported by social science and empirical research that show policies like Boyertown’s are in the best interests of all students and promote safe, inclusive, and successful school environments,” our brief explains. “Transgender students face a disproportionate amount of discrimination, bias, and harassment. Policies like Boyertown’s help prevent such discrimination and harassment by fostering a unified and cohesive school environment. Such policies benefit not only transgender students but also the student community as a whole.”
Our brief continues: “[T]his Court’s decision affects more than bathroom and locker room accessibility. It affects students’ ability to safely attend school and engage in day-to-day activities without facing routine demoralization, bias, discrimination, or harassment. It affects the school’s obligation to protect transgender students from discrimination. And, more broadly, it affects the standards imposed on an upcoming generation of children and the trajectory of expectations on a national and global level. Policies like Boyertown’s should be celebrated, not condemned.”
Americans United will continue to fight against attempts to use religion as an excuse to harm others. You can learn more about our work through our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign.