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Federal Court Rules That Gender Dysphoria Is Protected by Disability Act 

A person’s feet standing at the crossroads of gender symbols. Photo Courtesy of Todd Elwood   

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in Kesha Williams’ favor, allowing for gender dysphoria, or the emotional or psychological identification with a gender that differs from your sex at birth, to be covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Aug. 16. 

This occurred after Williams, a transgender woman, sued the lead sherif and prison nurse for harassment forcing her to live with men during her six-month sentence at the Fairfax Adult Detention Center in Virginia. 

“I am very supportive of the Court of Appeals’ decision to include gender dysphoria in the coverage of the ADA. Gender dysphoria is an experience that is very seldom understood by cisgender people, and this ignorance causes a lot of misunderstanding and poor decision-making on the government’s part,” Chandler Pope, a sophomore TV and film major and the digital media director of Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating the Acceptance of Diversity and Equality (CASCADE), the student LGBTQIA+ organization, said. 

Court documents explain how Williams spent six months in jail without her hormone medication and faced mockery for her gender identity. Williams accused Stacey Kincaid, the lead sheriff of Fairfax County’s sheriff’s office, of gross negligence due to Kincaid’s policy enactment. She also filed claims against Deputy Nikole Garcia and Xin Wang, the prison nurse, for ignorance of her gender identity. 

Kincaid created and enforced a policy that houses inmates based on their genitalia. She upheld this policy the entire duration of Williams’ sentence by housing her with men. When The Hilltop reached out to the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office for comment, they upheld that it was inappropriate for them to comment on an ongoing case.

The court ruling could have implications on legislation limiting access to medical care and  appropriate facilities. In the case of Williams v. Kincaid, the ruling is irreversible in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina, which Virginia resident and freshman computer science major Angel Richardson believes will have an unimaginable impact. 

“I believe this will prompt government systems; like jails, employment services and public places to accept all gender types and become less conservative. The general public will become more open to accepting all gender types as well,” Richardson said. 

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The circuit panel agreed that there is a distinction between gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria. The American Psychiatric Association plans to remove gender disorder from the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder and to add gender dysphoria as the clinically significant distress felt by transgender people. 

“I think that this will bring gender acceptance to people of all genders within our society. Hopefully, it will also bring eventual protection to these people that struggle with being who they are free and without fear and stress of society,”  Jeffrey Miller II, a senior criminology major, said. 

The Fairfax Adult Detention Center and William’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew 

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