Confirming Reality in School Bathrooms
When we review our culture’s views about marriage and sexuality, it’s difficult to find good news. We see a spike in gender dysphoria among adolescents, young men claiming to be women and snatching athletic opportunities away from females, and some Christians making the disappointing decision to abandon a biblical understanding of marriage. That’s the short list.
But, on Dec. 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit quietly released a ruling that sliced through the fog and shed a bright ray of common sense and truth. The court reversed a previous ruling and affirmed that biological sex is real, and that it’s a distinct biological classification that merits protection under the law.
In the court’s words, the case Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County is about the “unremarkable—and nearly universal—practice of separating school bathrooms based on biological sex.” But why is a Florida school district’s bathroom policy so consequential? And why should Christians care?
Before I tackle the implications, here is a brief summary of the case itself:
St. Johns’ school board developed a set of best-practices guidelines to protect the privacy and dignity of the district’s 40,000 students. After collaboration with community members—including those who identify as LGBTQ—the board determined that students who wished to present as the opposite sex should be called by the pronouns and names of their preference. When the policy was implemented, approximately 0.04 percent of the students—about 16—within the district identified as the opposite sex. Bathroom facility use would be based on biological sex, but students who did not wish to use the facility that matched their biological sex could use sex-neutral, single-stall bathrooms.
One student, Drew Adams, took issue with the policy. Adams—born a girl, with female chromosomes and anatomy—wished to present as a boy, demanded access to the boys’ bathrooms, and sued the school district accordingly. The district court and a smaller panel of judges from the 11th Circuit agreed with Adams’ argument.
But the majority of 11 judges who reheard the case disagreed and found that the school district’s policy did not discriminate against Adams or violate the U.S. Constitution or the federal law known as Title IX. In fact, the court found that the school board’s policy clearly advanced the important governmental objective of protecting students’ privacy in school bathrooms by allowing them to shield their bodies from the opposite sex.
To do so, the school must be allowed to differentiate based on biological sex. And “sex” cannot be stretched, altered, or redefined to include gender identity. As the 11th Circuit wrote, “The fact is … that a transgender girl is biologically male.”
Why does this matter? Because student privacy matters. And Americans’ opinions on the topic have been shifting in the right direction. Indeed, they are now 17 percentage points more likely to favor such policies than they were in 2016.
Adams exposes destructive gender-identity ideology for the aggressive, reality-bending crusade that it is. St. Johns’ school board went through a rigorous process of research and offered real accommodations to the small number of students struggling with gender dysphoria. That was not enough for the transgender ideologues. But it’s refreshing that a majority of 11th Circuit judges deemed such a compassionate and commonsense policy to be constitutional. The decision in Adams clarifies that public schools need not be complicit in the gaslighting of an entire generation of young people.
Rejecting the Genesis reality—“male and female he created them”—comes at a high cost. Real children are bearing the profound consequences of irreversible physical and mental harm to their bodies and souls. My law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of medical professionals and scientists, documenting the harms. The brief explained that there is no scientific or medical support for treating gender dysphoric children as if they were actually the opposite sex. In fact, that hurts them in the long run.
Adams also holds clear implications for the world of women’s sports. Even though Judge Barbara Lagoa authored the majority opinion in Adams, she published a separate concurring opinion where she explored the implications for the world of athletics: “[I]t is neither myth nor outdated stereotype that there are inherent differences between those born male and those born female and that those born male … have physiological advantages in many sports.”
Because other circuit courts have gotten this issue wrong (see Boyertown and Gloucester), the 11th Circuit’s ruling in Adams sets up a circuit split on the issue—a disagreement that increases the odds that the issue will come before the U.S. Supreme Court in the next few years.
While we don’t put our hope in princes (or judges), we can—and should—celebrate this win for justice, truth, and common sense.