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Civil Rights Attorney: St. Johns County Shouldn’t Be Optimistic About Trans Bathroom Ban

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News4Jax
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Drew Adams

A federal circuit court ruled last month that the St. Johns County School District violated the constitution when it prevented a transgender male student from using the boys’ bathroom.  

But this week the court agreed to revisit that decision at the request of the district, potentially impacting a small number of transgender children in the Northeast Florida school system. 

One student who could be affected by the outcome of the case is a 13-year-old trans boy who’s also the son of St. Johns County civil rights attorney Rook Ringer.

“I would like to know why they’re spending — at this point, it’s got to be over $100,000 on all of these appeals to just keep the very tiny minority of transgender kids in St. Johns County, from using the appropriate bathroom,” Ringer said. She asked not to share her son’s name to protect his privacy. 

The St. Johns County School Board declined to comment for this story, but in court filings, the School Board’s attorneys argued the previous rulings had failed to address what they called the “privacy interests of students to use the bathroom free from members of the opposite biological sex.” 

Ringer said her son came out as trans at the beginning of the 2020 school year, and has been able to use the boy’s bathroom at his current middle school without issue. If the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta rules in favor of the school district, the boy would have to use the girls’  bathroom. 

“If I was in that school, and I were him and I was this transgender boy, I would be thinking, ‘Why are all these adults spending so much time and effort to fight against me?’” 

A trans woman herself, Ringer recalled her own high school experience of getting to school early, changing into dresses and makeup before anyone else got there, then “holding it” until after school so she wouldn’t have to risk violence in either gendered bathroom. 

“Things were bad then, much worse than they are now. But I would have thought, with the president, the Department of Education and the Supreme Court all saying that we should not discriminate against transgender kids like this, that we wouldn’t still be having these arguments, of the School Board still trying to tooth-and-nail to treat transgender children badly.” 

Ringer said the 11th Circuit’s decision to re-hear the case is rare; typically, if parties want to escalate their case after the Circuit Court rules, the next stop is the Supreme Court. 

“The mere fact that they’ve decided to hear it doesn't mean they’ve decided to overturn the decision, so if I were the St. Johns school district, I would not be particularly optimistic at this point,” Ringer said. 

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.

Sydney manages community engagement programs like WJCT News' Coronavirus Texting Service. Originally from the mountains of upstate New York, she relocated to Jacksonville from Kentucky, where she reported on Appalachia's coal industry.