By Laurel Duggan
- A Democrat-appointed judge ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to individuals with gender dysphoria, meaning transgender people will now be protected by the ADA.
- The ruling opens up the possibility of future cases using the ADA to require prisons to allow biological males into women’s prisons if they identify as transgender, although it remains unclear whether that or another accommodation would be required.
- “The relevant question then becomes, ‘Is access to opposite-sex spaces a reasonable accommodation for GD?’ … The more justifiable accommodation for GD would be private/separate accommodation,” Candice Jackson, former assistant secretary of education for civil rights, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
A Democrat-appointed federal judge opened the door to allowing more males to be housed in women’s prisons Tuesday by ruling that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers people with gender dysphoria, despite language in the ADA specifically excluding gender identity disorders from protection under the ADA.
Kesha Williams, a biologically male former inmate who identifies as a transgender woman, sued several people associated with the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center in Virginia for allegedly violating the ADA in their decision to house Williams with men, according to court documents. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, a Clinton appointee, sided with Williams and rejected a lower court’s dismissal of the initial lawsuit. (RELATED: Men Keep Committing Heinous Crimes, Then Identifying As Women After Being Arrested. The Media Is Playing Along)
Candice Jackson, attorney and former assistant U.S. secretary of education for civil rights, told the Daily Caller News Foundation it was unclear how this decision would play out in practice, explaining that the ADA requires reasonable accommodations for disabilities, but not necessarily the accommodations an individual wants.
“Recognition of gender dysphoria as a disability under the ADA is not inherently problematic; depending on the severity of distress and how it manifests, objectively GD can be easily seen as a disability on par with any number of other conditions,” she told the DCNF.
“The relevant question then becomes, ‘Is access to opposite-sex spaces a reasonable accommodation for GD?’ There are many reasons to argue against that, because usually an accommodation can’t harm or violate the rights of others and still be considered reasonable,” she said. “The more justifiable accommodation for GD would be private/separate accommodation.”
The prison has a policy of housing inmates with male genitals in the men’s section; Williams was initially placed in the women’s section until a medical evaluation determined that the men’s facility would be more appropriate, according to the lawsuit. Williams allegedly experienced harassment from men while in prison and didn’t have consistent access to hormonal medications used in the sex-change process, which the lawsuit described as a treatment for gender dysphoria.
Williams served six months at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center after confessing to playing a role in a drug deal, according to The Washington Post.
Gender dysphoria is the sense of discomfort with one’s biological sex and body which leads some individuals to identify as transgender; not everyone with gender dysphoria goes on to identify as transgender, and not all transgender people pursue medical interventions to present as the opposite sex. Transgender activists argue that these drugs may help prevent suicide for people with gender dysphoria, although studies on “gender-affirming” drugs generally struggle with serious methodological issues such as lack of control groups and inability to determine causality, multiple DCNF investigations have found.
— GLAD (@GLADLaw) August 18, 2022
The ADA explicitly excludes gender identity disorders that don’t result from physical impairments, but Motz determined that the language in the ADA was outdated and shouldn’t be interpreted to exclude gender dysphoria. The case opens the door for future court decisions requiring special accommodations for transgender people under the ADA, including potentially allowing males to be housed in women’s prisons at a larger scale than is currently occurring.
“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,” Motz wrote in her opinion for a divided panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Republican judge on the panel dissented from its 2-to-1 ruling.
“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,” Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said in a statement.
Williams’ attorney did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.