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US trans rights: The teen who sued his school, and won, over bathroom use

Drew Adams at homeImage copyright
Drew Adams

“I hope we’ve now moved past the need to have courts saying trans people should be respected and treated normally.”

Drew Adams, a trans man, has spent the past three years fighting for transgender students to be allowed to use bathrooms at school that match their gender identity.

It came about after Drew, at the age of 14, was told by his school in Florida that he wasn’t allowed to use the men’s bathroom.

A federal court has now ruled in Drew’s favour in the first US trial involving a transgender student’s access to bathrooms. The ruling applies to Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

“I knew I had an obligation to people hiding their true trans identity, because there are so many people who don’t have accepting families,” Drew, who’s now 19, tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“And if they don’t have their families, and they don’t have their school, who do they have?”

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Drew Adams

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Drew came out and started his transition aged 14

Drew was in history class when he was called to the principal’s office.

“I sat with three other counsellors standing over me. They told me I wasn’t allowed to use the men’s bathroom,” he says.

Drew felt “very small, nervous and terrified” because he thought he’d “done something wrong”.

“I was really surprised and so confused.

“But they said that was the rule and I was only allowed to use the gender-neutral cubicles – there was only one in the entire school at the time.”

‘We got tired of waiting’

The more Drew thought about the school’s decision, the more upset he became.

His mum, Erica Kasper, was “also angry” and they “had meetings with people from the school authorities”.

After not getting the answers they were looking for, Drew and his mum filed a civil rights complaint against the school – leading to an investigation.

“There were lots of calls, emails and discussions about bathrooms.”

But Drew says things stalled after the 2016 presidential election and they stopped hearing back.

“We got tired of waiting so we reached out to Lambda Legal – an organisation that fights for LGBTQ rights – and filed a lawsuit against my school in 2017.”

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Fighting a long court case is not how most 16-year-olds would normally spend their time. But this was Drew’s “strange” high school experience.

From three-hour phone calls on his bedroom floor, to video calls with lawyers in different parts of the country discussing his deepest traumas – Drew says the process was “exhausting”.

“The other side had access to all of my social media, all the emails I’ve written, texts, therapy records, all of that stuff. And they could ask about anything, so we had to be prepared.”

But he says having a strong support system for getting him through, much like when he started his transition at 14.

“I had a lot of friends and such a supportive family. I would not be able to do this without my mom, my dad, my brother.”

‘The right time for trans rights is now’

Drew describes his emotions at the court victory as “a mixed bag of relief, happiness and nervousness”.

The judge found Drew was singled out for different treatment due to being trans – and said public schools may not “harm transgender students by establishing arbitrary, separate rules for their restroom use”.

After an initial win in 2018, Drew’s old school appealed – which led to the latest court victory. And he knows this might go all the way to the Supreme Court if there are more appeals.

“I can’t speculate on what might happen, but I do know that trans people can’t wait. The right time for trans rights is now.”

Drew feels his words as a teenager could “influence trans rights in this country for decades”.

“I’m really scared because I don’t know how much faith I would put in my 15-year-old self to make that happen.”

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Drew Adams

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Drew credits his mum (left) and lawyer Tara Borelli (centre) for their help and support

Along with Drew’s case, recent months have seen other court decisions which have protected LGBT rights in the US in areas such as employment and healthcare.

Drew is aware of the significance of the judgment in his case and feels other states in the US will be influenced by it.

“This could have ramifications in schools around the country for decades to come.”

And while it’s been a tough time for him, he’s grateful for how he’s grown as a person.

“I discovered that I love activism. I love speaking and I love communicating.

“And I think I really discovered that by being forced into the activism world.”

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