It’s been seven months since a federal judge ruled that Drew Adams, a transgender student at Nease High School, can use the boys’ bathroom during his final year at the school.

Adams and his mother, Erica Adams Kasper, sued the St. Johns County School District over a policy that required Adams, who was born a girl and then underwent hormone treatment and surgery, to use gender neutral bathrooms on the school’s campus.

Since the July ruling, Adams has returned to life as a senior preparing for college. But the fight isn’t over.

The St. Johns County School Board decided to appeal the decision of U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In doing so, some believe the case has a chance to be a watershed moment in advocates’ push for transgender rights, and it’s capturing national attention.

“I think we are really in a position to defend our win in the district court after trial and to not just continue to vindicate Drew’s rights, but set a precedent that will positively impact transgender students across three states,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a lawyer for the Lamba Legal team representing Adams. “We are talking about, not just students in Florida, but students in Georgia and Alabama, as well.”

If Adams loses the appeal, the case could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up a potentially historic ruling.

Appeal moves forward

Adams, 18, was not available for an interview with The Record this week, but in a recent interview Adams said he’s just been trying to get his life back to normal after the high-profile case.

“Most days, the case does not actually affect me except for being able to use the correct bathroom now. I’m mostly just a normal kid trying to survive high school,

Meanwhile, while Adams takes exams, prepares college applications and practices jiu-jitsu, his case has been slowly moving along after the school board appealed the ruling.

“We weren’t necessarily shocked at the appeal, but certainly disappointed by their [the school board’s] decision to do so,” Gonzalez-Pagan said.

School board members Beverly Slough, Tommy Allen, Bill Mignon, Kelly Barrera and Patrick Canan either did not return a request for comment or declined to comment to The Record this week citing the ongoing litigation. St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson also did not respond to a request for comment, but Forson said previously the district disagrees “with the plaintiff’s interpretation of the law.”

“We believed our policy was legal and one which struck a balance of the rights of all students,” Forson said in a statement last year.

Adams came out as a transgender boy his freshman year and used the boys restroom at the school for about six weeks in 2015 until an anonymous complaint led to the administration requiring him to use gender-neutral bathrooms.

In his decision last year, Corrigan said the law was clearly on Adams’ side when it came to using the boys restroom.

“When confronted with something affecting our children that is new, outside of our experience, and contrary to gender norms we thought we understood, it is natural that parents want to protect their children,” Corrigan wrote. “But the evidence is that Drew Adams poses no threat to the privacy or safety of any of his fellow students. Rather, Drew Adams is just like every other student at Nease High School, a teenager coming of age in a complicated, uncertain and changing world. When it comes to his use of the bathroom, the law requires that he be treated like any other boy.”

The school’s policy, Corrigan found, violated both federal Title IX education laws and Adams’ rights under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

“The district court judge here was following precedent from the appellate court as well as really the general consensus that has been building around this issue nationally,” Gonzalez-Pagan said.

Adams’ case is the first time the question of transgender students’ bathroom access has come before the 11th Circuit, but NBC News reports that there are similar cases working their way through other federal courts.

Support and opposition

In recent weeks, Adams has been gaining support from around the country. The chief law enforcement officers of 20 states and the District of Columbia entered a brief on behalf of Adams in March. Florida’s Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody was not among the supporters. Later, more than 30 companies — including Microsoft, Apple and Google — signed an amicus brief sent to the 11th Circuit Court by the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group. The friend-of-the-court brief from Human Rights Campaign argues that upholding the school’s bathroom policy would adversely affect the companies’ “ability to build and maintain diverse and inclusive workplaces.”

“Employees may be reluctant to be transferred to a state in which your child might experience discrimination,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, told NBC News.

There has also been continued opposition.

Alliance Defending Freedom — a conservative Christian nonprofit organization with the stated goal of advocating, training, and funding on the issues of “religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family” — recently filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of medical professionals and scientists arguing that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit should reverse the lower court decision in Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County.

“School policies should help students and protect all students’ privacy, not disregard the privacy rights of many. But if gender identity advocates have their way, St. Johns’ schools will be forced to violate students’ privacy and cooperate with high-risk, unproven medical treatments,” Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb wrote in a statement in January. “As the doctors point out in their brief, there is no evidence supporting gender affirmation treatments in the long term. The 11th Circuit should reverse the lower court decision that gives legal weight to unfounded scientific conclusions and instead prioritize the well-being of all children over political ideology.”

Holcomb told OneNewsNow she believes there’s a good chance the case could make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could resolve this issue once and for all.

Next steps

The St. Johns County School Board is being represented by Tallahassee-based law firm Sniffen & Spellman, P.A. during the appeal process. According to the district, the firm’s services are being paid for by the district’s insurance company, Florida School Boards Insurance Trust. A representative from the firm was not able to be reached Friday.

After the school district filed its reply last week, Gonzalez-Pagan said his team is waiting for the case to be calendared by the court for argument. He expects it could happen late summer or early fall. When the case is finally heard, there will be a lot of people watching.

“Drew is in the process of finishing his senior year, being able to be fully treated as the boy that he is by the school and we look forward to just making sure that his win is protected at the appellate level,” Gonzalez-Pagan said.

A federal judge on Tuesday contradicted the Trump administration's "incorrect" claim that no legal blocks remain for it to enforce a contentious policy to restrict many transgender individuals from the U.S. armed forces starting on April 12.

In a three-page notice, U.S. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said an injunction that she issued against the policy in 2017 remains in place.

"Defendants were incorrect in claiming that there was no longer an impediment to the military's implementation" of the transgender policy, the judge wrote.

A spokeswoman for Pentagon said it was consulting with the U.S. Justice Department, which declined to comment.

Three other injunctions issued by judges in separate cases have already been lifted, in part by a Jan. 22 U.S. Supreme Court decision and subsequent action by a federal judge in Maryland.

That prompted the U.S. Defense Department to sign a memo on March 12 that would enforce its service limitations on transgender people, effective one month later.

Kollar-Kotelly's injunction, however, had been set aside by a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 4. The panel said it would hold off on issuing a "mandate" to finalize the higher court's decision until it resolves any request by the plaintiffs who challenged the transgender policy as a violation of the U.S. Constitution to rehear their appeal.

"The Trump administration cannot circumvent the judicial process just to fast track its baseless, unfair ban on transgender servicemembers," said attorney Jennifer Levi of the anti-discrimination group GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), who represents the plaintiffs.

President Donald Trump in 2017 announced a plan to ban transgender people from the military, reversing Democratic former President Barack Obama's policy of allowing transgender troops to serve openly and get medical transition care.

In March 2018, Trump backed a revised policy from then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It banned, in some circumstances, transgender people with gender dysphoria, or distress due to internal conflict between physical gender and gender identity.

The Mattis policy also banned transgender people who seek or have undergone gender transition steps.

For seven years, Kyndra Purnell could find no clinic near her home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that would prescribe the hormones she desperately needed. She was forced to rely on the black market, buying estrogen injections from the few other transgender women she knew in the area.

Then, about three years ago, she found Chase Brexton Health Services, a medical provider in Baltimore that offers hormone replacement therapy and other types of health care for the transgender community.

But the clinic was more than two hours from Purnell’s home in Ocean City. Still, every three months, she made the drive, taking time off from her full-time job.

“Down here, there’s not much help for people like us,” Purnell said. “So many people are just at a loss.”

In large swaths of Maryland and Virginia, options for medical care are limited for those in the transgender community. Their need for specialized care and LGBT-friendly providers can force them to travel many hours. Of the 1,837 patients Whitman-Walker Health — a D.C. provider that specializes in LGBTQ care — served in 2018, more than half lived in Virginia or Maryland; about 50 patients traveled from as far away as South Carolina and Alabama.

In response, a local transgender advocacy group has launched an initiative to try to close gaps in gender-affirming health care. Last fall, the DC Area Transmasculine Society, known as DCATS, rolled out an online databasethat allows transgender individuals to recommend and review medical and wellness providers based on their competency of transgender needs.

Health care is the primary question that comes up in support groups for the transgender community, said Jamison Crowell, the executive director of DCATS. For years, many have used word-of-mouth to share suggestions for trans-friendly medical providers, posting in Facebook groups and other online forums. The Yelp-style online lists have had inaccurate or outdated information about providers in the D.C. region, Crowell said.

What makes this database, called the Trans Wellness Information Network, different is that each review must be submitted and authorized by someone who identifies as transgender. About 125 providers have been added to the database so far.

After filling the database with recommendations from the transgender community, the group plans to have local providers fill out a questionnaire that DCATS staff will evaluate to create a five-star measure of trans competency.

The questionnaire will include free-response questions asking providers to describe any training they have received specific to catering to the transgender community. It will also ask to what extent a provider incorporates the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care and whether a provider’s intake process allows patients to indicate the name and pronouns they would like to be called.

It also aims to hold workshops and panels to educate local medical and wellness providers, in collaboration with Trans Healthcare MD , which advocates for expanded access to transgender-competent health care.

Lee Blinder, a founder of Trans Healthcare MD, said the group has focused in large part on urging Planned Parenthood to begin offering hormone replacement therapy in its Maryland clinics, as it does in clinics in 28 other states.

Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington recently told The Washington Post that it plans to do just that. It will begin offering hormone therapy at each of its three regional health centers, in Northeast Washington, Suitland, Md., and Gaithersburg, Md.

The move will expand access to care in some parts of Maryland but will still leave gaping holes in areas further from the District and Baltimore. In the western part of the state, for example, Blinder said very few — if any — clinics allow a transgender patient to use what is called the “informed consent” model of accessing hormone replacement therapy. The model, pushed by transgender rights advocates and used by providers such as Whitman-Walker and Chase Brexton, allows transgender patients to quickly obtain a prescription for hormone replacement therapy after discussing the risks with a medical provider.

The alternative, older method — still used by many health centers in the region — requires a patient to first meet with a mental health provider, who must then sign a letter authorizing the use of hormones. That requirement, Blinder says, means therapists become “gatekeepers” capable of creating further barriers to receiving hormone treatment. Some mental health providers require a patient to meet for months of therapy before starting hormones.

“People can get stuck in the system for a long time,” Blinder said. “Many people don’t end up getting a letter at all. The provider will make up excuses as to why they’re not ready.”

It’s just one of the hurdles transgender patients can endure. Despite the Affordable Care Act regulation preventing providers and health insurance companies from discriminating against transgender people, many patients continue to battle with insurance companies that refuse to cover certain procedures. Sometimes the toughest feat is simply finding a primary care provider that will use a transgender patient’s correct name and pronouns.

Purnell, the transgender woman from the Eastern Shore, who now lives in Salisbury, Md., said she frequently has to go to a nearby emergency room for recurring cluster headaches. While the hospital staff has known her for years, they continue to call her by the wrong name, Purnell said. Last week, Purnell said, a doctor walked into the hospital room and suggested that there had been a mix-up.

“I think we’re in the wrong room,” the doctor said, Purnell recounted. “This has you marked down as him.”

Elliot Ayres, a 22-year-old transgender man in the District, said he once went to a primary care provider in Northern Virginia and asked about some pain he had been experiencing from binding his chest. The doctor not only misgendered Ayres — he didn’t even know what a binder was, Ayres said.

As frustrating as the appointment was, Ayres said it wasn’t particularly surprising.

“Trans people oftentimes have really low expectations,” Ayres said. “Our success stories are like, being gendered correctly and people using our names. I think we can ask for more.”

Transgender residents and those who don’t identify as either male or female would be allowed to change their name and sex information on their birth certificates under a bill passed by the New Hampshire House this week.

The bill would require an applicant to get notarized statements from health care providers stating that in the provider’s opinion, an individual is male, female or neither and is reasonably expected to continue as such for the foreseeable future. New birth certificates would be issued, but the original certificates would also be kept.

Supporters say birth certificates already can be changed for a variety of reasons, including adoption or someone who has had gender reassignment surgery. Opponents argued that birth certificates record “facts, not feelings.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

A gym buff was convicted this week of sexually assaulting a transgender woman in the bathroom of a Manhattan Starbucks.

Taren Tyler, 33, was found guilty of criminal sex act and sexual abuse at trial in Manhattan Supreme Court Tuesday.

The 27-year-old victim said she met Tyler for their first date at the coffee shop near Penn Station on Jan. 30, 2017.

Tyler went to the bathroom to roll a marijuana cigarette and asked the woman to meet him in the restroom, the victim said.

When she got there, Tyler grabbed her by the hair and pulled her inside, the woman testified.

“What the hell are you doing?” she asked, according to her testimony.

She said she did not move or scream because she was “frozen” with fear.

Tyler, who is a bulky 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, used his strength to force the 5-foot-7, 160-pound victim to perform oral sex on him.

Then he raped her as he warned her not to get him angry.

The victim, who hasn’t yet had sex reassignment surgery, said she hadn’t told Tyler she was transgender at the time of the assault, as they met just a few days prior at a New York Sports Club on the Upper West Side where she worked.

Tyler had a completely different take on the date.

He testified they got hot and heavy at the table at Starbucks and she put her hand on his groin.

Inside the bathroom, Tyler said the victim willingly gave him oral sex without him knowing about her trans status, which “traumatized” him and “grossed” him out when she disclosed it after.

“I was shocked and dazed,” he said. “And angry.”

“I felt like she took something from me,” he added.

He claimed that he was “embarrassed” by the whole ordeal.

“I'm like, ‘Can you just leave?’ ” he testified about his reaction. “Just leave me the f--k alone.”

“You didn’t tell me. You sucked my d--k,” he barked at her as she tried to explain herself, according to court records.

Tyler’s lawyer, Glenn Hardy, said the accuser’s story didn’t add up.

On the stand, the woman said that after the assault she took a walk and shared a joint with Tyler.

“No sane person walks down the street sharing a joint with a guy she’s afraid is going to kill her,” Hardy said.

“And a Starbucks empty on a Monday night?” he added. “This case had reasonable doubt written all over it.”

Tyler faces up to 25 years in prison at his April 2 sentencing.

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