Federal court rules gender dysphoria a disability

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. Photo by Acroterion - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Tuesday affirmed that transgender people who experience gender dysphoria are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. 

The ruling reverses a Virginia district court’s dismissal of claims brought by Kesha Williams, a transgender woman who was incarcerated in a men’s detention facility, denied access to medical treatment for her gender dysphoria, and faced persistent harassment by other inmates and prison deputies.

friend-of-the-court brief co-authored by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) presented scientific research and established case law to argue that the ADA prohibits discrimination based on gender dysphoria and requires that the treatment of people with disabilities must be based on “reasoned and medically sound judgments.”

“This is a huge win. There is no principled reason to exclude transgender people from our federal civil rights laws,” said Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director. “It’s incredibly significant for a federal appeals court to affirm that the protections in our federal disability rights laws extend to transgender people.”

A statement from GLAD said this was the first time a federal court had ruled on the issue.

The brief was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, Black and Pink Massachusetts, Lambda Legal, National Center for Transgender Equality, National LGBTQ Task Force, Trans People of Color Coalition, Transcending Barriers, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, disAbility Law Center of Virginia, and Disability Rights Vermont.

The decision can be read here.