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Williams v. Kincaid

Transgender people are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act in all public institutions—including carceral settings.

Update: On June 30, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari, leaving the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit ruling in place.

10/7/2022: Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied en banc review in Kesha Williams’ case, leaving their prior ruling in place.

12/13/2021: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today affirmed that transgender people who experience gender dysphoria are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The ruling reverses a Virginia district court’s dismissal of claims brought by Kesha Williams. This is an impactful ruling for Ms. Williams and the first time an Appeal Court has ruled to affirm transgender rights in this manner.

GLAD co-authored an amicus (friend of the court) brief submitted to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Williams v. Kincaid. The case challenges the placement of a transgender woman, Kesha Williams, in a Virginia men’s prison and the denial of all other care related to her gender dysphoria, a disabling medical condition that affects many transgender people, by the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office. The district court ruled against Williams’ claims that these actions violated her rights under the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against people living with disabilities, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which bars discrimination based on disability by federally funded entities. The case is now on appeal.

GLAD co-authored the brief supporting Williams with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Quinnipiac University School of Law Legal Clinic, with assistance from the firm Arent Fox. The brief was joined by the ACLU, Black and Pink Massachusetts, Lambda Legal, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Transcending Barriers (ATL), Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the Trans People of Color Coalition.

Drawing on scientific research and established case law, the brief argues that the ADA protects against discrimination based on gender dysphoria and some forms of gender identity disorder, two distinct medical conditions that affect many transgender people.

Under long-established medical protocols, the treatment for gender dysphoria is gender transition—the process of living consistently with one’s gender identity—which includes an individualized combination of hormone therapy, surgery, and or psychotherapy. Williams underwent gender transition 15 years ago and continued to receive hormone therapy that alleviated her gender dysphoria until she was wrongly incarcerated in a men’s prison.

There, prison officials withdrew Williams’ hormone therapy, forced her to shower in the presence of men, subjected her to strip searches by male officers, denied her access to female commissary items, and deliberately referred to her as a man, thereby jeopardizing her health.

GLAD’s brief argues that the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit these actions. The laws require that the treatment of people with disabilities must be based on “reasoned and medically sound judgments” and that social institutions—including prisons—provide equal access and make reasonable accommodations when entrenched policies and practices interfere with a person’s equal access to those institutions.

Baughman v. Virginia

LGBTQ people should be treated fairly and not subjected to discrimination and unfounded stereotypes in the criminal legal system and civil commitment proceedings.

Mathena v. Malvo

GLAD has signed onto an amicus brief in support of Lee Boyd Malvo, whose successful habeas petition to be re-sentenced following the USSC decision in Miller v Alabama is being challenged by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia is essentially arguing that Malvo’s life without parole sentence–imposed after a capital jury declined to sentence him to death–was a discretionary rather than mandatory sentence and thus outside Miller’s mandate. Juvenile Law Center’s amicus brief will urge the Supreme Court to abide by its holdings in Miller and Montgomery that only youth found to be permanently incorrigible are eligible for life without parole sentences and that this determination has yet to be made regarding Malvo.

G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board

GLAD joined with partner organization, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and others March 2 in filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in soundly rebutting the Gloucester County School Board’s argument that its discriminatory action barring Gavin Grimm from using the boys’ restroom at his high school is justified by privacy concerns. Read more.

On March 6, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it is remanding the case back to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals following the Trump Administration’s withdrawal of guidance to schools clarifying the treatment of transgender students under Title IX. Read the statement issued by Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project Director, here.

On April 7, 2017, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals announced that Gavin’s case would not be heard before graduations. However, in a concurrence to that order, Judge Andre M. Davis issued a beautiful statement recognizing Gavin’s humanity – and by extension the humanity of trans people everywhere – and acknowledging the incredible impact Gavin’s courageous fight has had and will have as the journey to full equality continues.


In April 2016,  the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a ruling confirming a policy set by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ensuring Gavin Grimm, then a 15-year-old transgender student in Virginia, should be fully respected as a boy at his school, including in being able to access the boys’ room.

Gavin’s use of the boys’ room prompted the Gloucester County School Board to enact a policy excluding transgender students from using the same restrooms as their peers, even though no other students complained when Gavin used the boys’ room. The ACLU filed suit against the school board on behalf of Gavin, arguing that the school’s actions violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

The Appeals Court decision reversed the district court’s dismissal of Gavin’s Title IX claim and instructed the lower court to defer to policy set by the Department of Education which requires schools to provide transgender students access to restroom facilities based on the student’s gender identity.

The school board appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi is helping to shepherd five different amicus briefs to be filed in support of Gavin at the Supreme Court.

One brief is being written on behalf of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, the nation’s leading clinics specializing in serving transgender youth, Dr. Norman Spack of Boston Children’s Hospital, and a number of other prominent doctors and medical and policy organizations with expertise in adolescent and transgender health issues. It closely examines research on child development of identity, and the role of schools in advancing—or thwarting—healthy development, and makes the case that being able to use the same bathroom as other students at school is critical for the healthy development of transgender adolescents..

GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and Goodwin Procter LLP previously filed an amicus brief with the appeals court on behalf of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and other medical and mental health associations.