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Federal appeals court: ADA protects people with gender dysphoria

On Behalf of | Sep 2, 2022 | Disability Rights

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to people who suffer from gender dysphoria, says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Although Fourth Circuit rulings do not apply directly to California, a ruling by any circuit court of appeals is significant because other circuits are likely to follow similar reasoning on the same precedents.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is a conflict between the person’s gender identity and the gender they were assigned at birth. It is an irrepressible feeling that the person does not belong to the gender assigned to them at birth. Gender dysphoria is generally treated, after significant psychological confirmation, by helping the person medically adjust their birth gender to the one they identify with.

This particular case involved a woman who suffered alleged discrimination in a prison in Virginia. She was initially housed with other women but was immediately transferred to the men’s unit when it was discovered that she is transgender. In the men’s unit, other inmates and prison deputies harassed her and intentionally misgendered her, and she was forced to delay the medical treatment she needed to treat her gender dysphoria.

Although this case involves ADA rights in prison, the ruling applies to all of the ADA, which also covers employment, education and public accommodations.

What did the court say and what comes next?

The Fourth Circuit noted that the ADA specifically excludes protection for people with “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments.” However, basing its ruling on current medical understanding, the court ruled that gender dysphoria is covered by the law.

“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,” reads the opinion.

This ruling applies directly to all the states in the Fourth Circuit (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia). Other federal circuits are likely to read the opinion carefully and follow it unless they find legal flaws. Therefore, people in states outside the Fourth Circuit can cite the ruling in lawsuits as an advisory opinion.

“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,” commented a spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAD.

People who are living with gender dysphoria may be at any stage of gender reassignment. Regardless, they deserve the right to live their lives free of discrimination.

Leigh Law Group represents people with all sorts of disabilities in discrimination cases throughout California.

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