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Missouri appeals court: State’s Human Rights Act does not cover gender identity

Flickr | steakpinball

Updated July 18 at 1:30 p.m. with comments from the ACLU of Missouri — The Missouri Human Rights Act does not provide protections for gender identity, the Missouri Court of Appeals reinforced Tuesday.

The 2-1 decision stems from a case in which a 17-year-old transgender boy in the Kansas City area sued because he was not allowed to use the boys' restroom or locker rooms at his high school.

Requiring the teen to use single-stall restrooms did not violate the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, the court said. The majority also wrote that the Blue Springs R-IV School District was not denying the plaintiff, identified only as R.M.A., a right or a privilege it was granting other students.

“Our judicial role does not permit us to vary settled legislative intent based on evolving social sensitivities,” the court wrote. “Instead, we are bound by the state of the law as it currently exists.”

R.M.A.’s attorneys were seeking to overturn a 2016 decision by a Jackson County judge who sided with the school district’s argument that the boy couldn’t sue for discrimination because the Human Rights Act doesn’t cover gender identity.

There's a lot more at stake than access to bathrooms, said Tony Rothert, the legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, which supported the teen's position in court.

"All of the protections under the Missouri Human  Rights Act, not just public accommodations,  but also housing and employment discrimination, are at issue," he said.

Judge Rex Gabbert’s dissenting opinion said the facts of the case support R.M.A’s claim that he was blocked from using the boy’s restroom because he has female anatomy.

“Discrimination based on sexual anatomy is clearly discrimination based on sex, and one’s gender identity cannot erode unequivocal statutory protections,” Gabbert said.

Rothert said Gabbert's ruling is more in line with states like Colorado and Maine.

“Most courts believe that sex discrimination is sex discrimination and that it’s wrong even when it’s against a transgender student in the school place,” Rothert said.

R.M.A.’s attorneys said they had not yet decided whether to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. The school district did not immediately comment.

The ruling came the same day advocacy groups launched a national campaign telling schools they could be sued for not allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.