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Landmark Foster Care Case: Jean Doe vs. Bell

In January 2003, SRLP, working with the Peter Cicchino Youth Project of the Urban Justice Center and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, helped achieve a groundbreaking victory for transgender youth in foster care in the Jean Doe v. Bell case. In this case, a 17-year-old transgender woman won the right to dress in women’s clothing while a resident in foster care facilities run by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). The court ruled that dress codes barring transgender youth in foster care from wearing clothing appropriate to their gender identity was illegal discrimination. “What ACS was asking her to do in terms of wearing male clothing was contravening what is best for her health and well being as a transgender person,” said SRLP founder Dean Spade. In the suit, the legal team argued that ACS was discriminating against the young woman based on her gender identity disorder (GID) diagnosis and on her sex. SRLP also charged that ACS was violating her First Amendment right to free expression. On January 7, State Supreme Court Judge Louise Gruner Gans ruled that the Commission of ACS had engaged in unlawful discrimination. “The court finds that [ACS has] refused to accommodate reasonably [her] GID in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law,” Gans wrote. “[She] is therefore entitled to relief in the form of an exception from [ACS’] dress policy to the extent that it bars her from wearing skirts and dresses at the Atlantic Transitional congregate foster care facility.” Gans did not comment on the other factors in the case because the GID discrimination was sufficient to rule that ACS cannot bar her from wearing women’s attire. “It is a landmark decision,” Spade said. “I think it has a huge impact… Basically what this decision is saying is you can’t discriminate based on transgender identity.” The petitioner in this case is not alone in her experience as a transgender youth living in unsafe conditions. SRLP sees many transgender youth who are put in a place where they can’t survive, where they are abused by residents and staff and where the system ignores and condones their abuse. SRLP continues to fight on behalf of transgender youth facing discrimination and violence in foster care and juvenile justice facilities across New York.

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Court Decision For Jean Doe Vs. Bell (PDF) 525.26 KB

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