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Federal judge: Maryland transgender student may use facilities that align with gender identity

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Maryland [official website] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] that a transgender student must be permitted to use both the restroom and locker room that is "in alignment with their gender identity."

Max Brennan, the plaintiff in the matter, is a 15-year-old student at the St. Michaels Middle High School (SMHS) who identifies as male. When Max was in the sixth grade, he "arrived at the clear realization that he was a boy." However, SMHS refused to allow Max to use the male bathroom and locker rooms and instead instructed him to use three designated gender neutral, single-use restrooms when he needed to use the facilities or change his clothing. By the time the matter reached the court, SMHS allowed Max to use the restroom in light of the Fourth Circuit's decision in G.G. ex rel. Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board [opinion, PDF]. However, it continued its practice of not permitting him to use the boy's locker room.

In the complaint, Max brought claims under both the federal and the Maryland constitutions. In response to his equal protection claim, SMHS argued that they did not treat him any differently from other students and that "transgender status is not a suspect class under the Equal Protection Clause." The court noted that while neither the Fourth Circuit or the Supreme Court has spoken to the rights of transgender individuals under the federal Equal Protection Clause, the court found that the policies aimed at Max are essentially sex-based classifications and thus the same standard that applies in sex discrimination cases must apply to instances of transgender discrimination. Max also brought claims under Title IX alleging sex discrimination.

In making its ruling, the court stated that:

M.A.B.’s claims come down to a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy. This Court finds that Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause provide M.A.B. grounds to do so.

The suit was originally filed by FreeState Justice (FSJ) [advocacy website], a legal advocacy organization that works predominantly with low-income LGBT individuals within Maryland, and then later joined by the ACLU and ACLU of Maryland. In an FSJ press release [text], Jennifer Kent, the managing attorney with FSJ stated that:

School systems in Maryland should know the law and should be protecting students who are transgender from discrimination, not singling them out for separate and unequal treatment.

It is unclear if SMHS intends to appeal the matter.

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