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U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal over transgender bathroom policy

The U.S. Supreme Court won't take up a challenge to a Pennsylvania school district's policy allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker-rooms that correspond with their sexual identity.

Pennsylvania school district to continue letting transgender students choose facilities

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal challenging a Pennsylvania school district's policy allowing transgender students to use the facilities of their choice. (Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court won't take up a challenge to a Pennsylvania school district's policy allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker-rooms that correspond with their sexual identity.

The justices on Tuesday rejected an appeal from six former or current high school students, who argued allowing transgender students to use the same facilities violated their right to privacy.

The court's order leaves in place a federal Appeals Court ruling that held the Boyertown School District, about 72 kilometres northeast of Philadelphia, could continue to allow transgender students the choice of what facilities to use.

The students are represented by the conservative Christian law firm Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Boyertown schools policy applies to students on a case-by-case basis. There is only one high school in the district, Boyertown Area Senior High School, which is located in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia.

Obama-era rules peeled back

Democratic former president Barack Obama's administration in 2016 issued guidance to American public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, a milestone in the history of transgender rights in the United States.

That and other Obama policies supporting transgender rights triggered a backlash from Christian conservatives and some Republican politicians.

Just a month after taking office in 2017, Republican President Donald Trump's administration rescinded the Obama guidance. The administration has taken other steps to limit transgender rights, including a Justice Department conclusion that a federal law against workplace discrimination on the basis of sex does not cover transgender or gay employees.

On Jan. 22, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the implementation of a Trump policy barring many transgender people from the military, lifting lower court rulings that had blocked the policy on constitutional grounds while a legal challenge continues.

The Trump administration last week also proposed to rescind an Obama-era regulation that protects transgender patients under the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare.

Policy applied to 3 students

Lawyers for the students challenging the Boyertown School District policy said the district's high school did not notify students or parents about it. During the 2016-2017 academic year, the school district applied the policy to three transgender students.

At the time the policy was introduced, the school district replaced group showers in the locker-rooms with individual stalls. The district also added new multi-user bathrooms with individual stalls and built several single-user bathrooms.

The American Civil Liberties Union represents a Pennsylvania gay and transgender rights group that intervened in the case in support of the policy.

Two of the students fighting against the policy still attend the school, while four others do not. One of the students, identified in the case as Joel Doe, was "embarrassed and confused" when he was getting undressed in the locker-room with a transgender student present, his lawyers said in court papers.

"Joel Doe was marked down in gym class for failing to change his clothes, and he eventually felt forced to leave the school entirely," the lawyers wrote.

Lawyers for the school district said the challenging students "failed to show any infringement of their rights" and defended the district's "sound educational policy" in handling transgender students.

The Philadelphia-based Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the school district in June 2018, prompting the challengers to appeal to the Supreme Court.

With files from Reuters

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