The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit became the first appellate court in the nation to find that gender dysphoria is covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ruling came after Keisha Williams, a Black transgender woman sued Fairfax County for housing her with men during her time in jail. In the majority opionion issued Tuesday, the court wrote “being transgender is not a disability,” but “many transgender people experience gender dysphoria,” or distress over the discrepancy between their identity and assigned sex and that “a transgender person’s medical needs are just as deserving of treatment and protection as anyone else’s.”
Williams, who is 41, was initially housed with women when she was arrested in 2018 for apparently helping her boyfriend sell drugs. However, when she began asking for the hormone medication she has been taking for the last 15 years, she was “reclassified.” Williams was then housed with men, referred to as a man, and searched roughly by male guards. She could not get a bra or receive consistent hormone treatment.
“Guys would watch me shower from the balcony,” Williams said in an interview. “Nobody was helpful; I didn’t feel safe.” Before the end of her six month sentence, she contacted a lawyer saying she was worried for all transgender people in the Fairfax County Jail. “The next girl could really want to hurt herself, could kill herself,” she said.
Williams' case faced a major obstacle early on. When the ADA was passed in 1990, “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments” were specifically excluded. The exclusion was included in the final version of the act at the urging of conservative senators intent on denying any rights rights to trans Americans. The first federal judge to hear her case found that the exclusion meant she could not sue under the law. However, the appeals court disagreed on several grounds.
The court found that “gender identity disorder” is different from “gender dysphoria.” The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders eliminates gender identity disorder, which is defined as the desire to change sexes and defines gender dysphoria as “discomfort caused by a discrepancy between gender identiy and assigned sex.” Not all trans people suffer from “gender dysphoria.” The court wrote that “the obselete diagnosis focused soley on cross-gender identification, while gender dysphoria ‘concerns itself primarily with distress and other disabling symptoms, rather than simly being transgender’.” Further, the court found that Williams’ disorder was physical; she treats her condition medically. Finally the court ruled that if gender dysphoria were excluded from the ADA, it “would discriminate against transgender people as a class, implicating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendement to the Constitution. The court also found that Fairfax’s policy of classifying those detained according to gentaling , to violate the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which bars sorting transgender people who are detained based on genitals alone.
The opinion was written by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz and joined by Judge Pamela Harris –both appointees of President Barack Obama. Trump appointee, Judge Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., distended in part saying that while some of Williams’ claims could proceed under the Constitution, the understanding of gender identity was not as nuanced at the time the ADA was passed.
In similar cases, the D.C. Department of Corrections entered into a settlement this year to change its policies regarding transgender people at their jails and in 2015 a trans woman in Maryland won a lawsuit agaisnt a state prison under the PREA.
📸: The New York Times
See the original article here:4th Circuit first to rule gender dysphoria a protected disability