Federal Appeals Court Rules Transgenderism Is Protected as a Disability


A federal court has ruled that transgender people are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On Tuesday, in a majority opinion from the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the court ruled that, “In light of the ‘basic promise of equality … that animates the ADA,’ we see no legitimate reason why Congress would intend to exclude from the ADA’s protections transgender people who suffer from gender dysphoria.”

Gender dysphoria is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a “clinically significant distress or impairment related to gender incongruence, which may include desire to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics.”

This new ruling from the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court stems from a lawsuit in 2020 that was filed for Kesha Williams, a transgender inmate who was put in a Virginia men’s prison, even though he had received hormone replacement therapy for about 20 years, The Hill reported.

Williams was first incarcerated with women at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, but was then moved to the men’s facility after informing a nurse that he was transgender but had not had gender-affirming genital surgery.

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After Williams was placed with men, male inmates and deputies harassed Williams.

Williams eventually sued Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, along with a prison nurse and deputy, after being released from prison in 2019.

Williams alleged that the prison had violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act by not treating his gender dysphoria.

The sheriff’s office responded to William’s complaint by arguing that gender dysphoria is not a “disability” under the ADA, but rather it is “an identity disorder not resulting from physical impairments,” The Hill reported.

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In fact, the ADA as it was first adopted in 1990 specifically stated that gender identity disorder could not be defined as a “disability.”

The definitions section of the ADA specifically states, “Under this chapter, the term ‘disability’ shall not include … transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders.”

At first, a district court dismissed Williams’ case on the basis that the ADA excluded “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments” from the protection of the law.

But then Williams appealed and argued that the language excluding gender dysphoria in the 1990 ADA was outdated and undefined, CNN reported.

The appeals court then reversed the lower court’s dismissal, citing an updated medical understanding.

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“Crucially, advances in medical understanding led the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013 to remove ‘gender identity disorders’ from the most recent DSM (5th ed. 2013), the DSM-5,” the appeals court noted in the decision.

“The very fact of revision suggests a meaningful difference, and the contrast between the definitions of the two terms — gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria — confirms that these revisions are not just semantic. Indeed, the definition of gender dysphoria differs dramatically from that of the now-rejected diagnosis of ‘gender identity disorder,'” the ruling added.

Thus the appeals court on Tuesday ruled in disagreement with the original stipulations of the 1990 ADA.

“We have little trouble concluding that a law excluding from ADA protection both ‘gender identity disorders’ and gender dysphoria would discriminate against transgender people as a class, implicating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the ruling read.

The issue of how to treat transgender inmates and where to place them has been a focus of trans advocacy groups. There have been calls for reform and anti-discrimination laws, CNN reported.

The ruling from the court on Tuesday is being hailed as a win for transgenders.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the “decision sets a powerful precedent that will be important for other courts considering this critical issue,” CNN reported.

Jennifer Levi, the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, agreed. “This opinion goes a long way toward removing social and cultural barriers that keep people with treatable, but misunderstood, medical conditions from being able to thrive,” she said, according to CNN.

However, though the court had a majority in favor of the ruling, Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum dissented in part.

“In reaching this conclusion, I accept as true Williams’ allegation that she suffers from gender dysphoria. And I accept as true Williams’ allegation that gender dysphoria involves discomfort or distress caused by a discrepancy between one’s gender identity and the sex assigned at birth,” Quattlebaum wrote in the dissent.

But the judge did not agree with the decision to dismiss language and definitions related to gender dysmorphia.

“But accepting those allegations as true does not require me to turn a blind eye to the plain language of the authorities on which Williams relies. Nor does it permit Williams, like Humpty Dumpty, to ‘use a word’ and declare ”it means just what I choose it to mean,” (a reference to Lewis Carroll’s 1872 classic, “Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There) the judge noted. “After all, we are not in Wonderland.”

Quattlebaum’s distinct warning about changing words and meanings was a direct pushback against the majority opinion to dismiss the APA’s 1990 definitions and language that did not acknowledge gender disorders.

“Reducing stigmas and preserving insurance coverage may be good reasons to change the name of the diagnosis from gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria. And there may be other reasons for the change. But the meaning of gender identity disorders was fixed at the time the ADA was enacted,” Quattlebaum added in summation.

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