Metro Weekly

Va. School Board Votes Against Transgender Student

Gloucester County policy restricts trans students to single-stall restrooms or those of their biological sex

Gloucester County (Map courtesy of Dave Bradlee via Dave's Redistricting App.)

Gloucester County (Map courtesy of Dave Bradlee via Dave’s Redistricting App.)

The Gloucester County (Va.) School Board voted 6-1 on Tuesday to approve a motion that limits transgender students to using the bathroom assigned to their biological sex, or single-stall restrooms or some other type of “alternative private facility” following a controversy over a local high school that allowed a transgender male to use the boys’ restroom. 

As reported by the Daily Press, Gavin Grimm, a transgender sophomore at Gloucester High School, was allowed by at the beginning of the school year to use a single-stall restroom in the nurse’s office and staff restrooms. But after he complained that he felt isolated from other students, the principal allowed him to use the boys’ restroom. 

The majority of those present at the school board meeting objected to allowing someone who was born biologically as a member of one sex from using a restroom for those of the opposite sex, invoking fears that the policy could spread to middle and elementary schools in the county, and expressing concerns about the “rights” to privacy of the other male students.

The measure was introduced in November by School Board member Carla Hook (York), but the vote was postponed by a month. At Tuesday’s meeting Hook told those assembled that she did not believe the issue regarding transgender students being able to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as was a civil rights issue. 

“I don’t think what we’re talking about tonight implicates anyone’s civil rights,” Hook said. “Because let me be clear: I don’t think we get to vote on anyone’s civil rights. That’s how important they are. And I don’t think what we are talking about tonight, which is very specific, and that is keeping our private facilities — restrooms, locker rooms, etc. — separated on the basis of biological gender, and providing an appropriate, compassionate alternative for those who for, whatever reason, it doesn’t work.”

But board member Kim Hensley (Ware), the sole vote against the measure, argued that restroom use did fall under the umbrella of civil rights, in that the federal Department of Education interprets and, along with the Office of Civil Rights, enforces Title IX, a portion of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 that prohibits any form of discrimination on the basis of gender. Under Hensley’s reading of federal law and previous court cases, the board’s adoption of the policy does violate Title IX. 

The Commonwealth’s LGBT rights organization, Equality Virginia, expressed its disappointment in the board’s decision, saying it not only discriminates against transgender students, but violates Title IX. 

“With this vote, the school board has failed to ensure that all students in Gloucester County Public Schools have equal access to public accommodations, including restrooms, locker rooms, or changing facilities, upon the basis of their gender identity,” James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. “Equality Virginia provided resources and best practices to the school board on November 11 — well in advance of this vote — and it is unfortunate that they failed to take seriously the impact that this policy can have on transgender students as well as the whole student body.”

“Our schools should be creating caring, respectful, and diverse environments, and this policy does the opposite,” Parrish continued. “Equality Virginia held a public meeting on December 2 in Gloucester to educate community members about this important issue, and we will continue to educate teachers, parents, and community members, as well as state-level leaders, until all transgender students in Virginia are protected at school.”

Parrish also called on the commonwealth to provide “clear and uniform guidance” to all Virginia public schools on the best practices regarding transgender youth, noting that other counties and school districts in the state may face similar issues.

“Currently, the patchwork of different policies across Virginia is confusing and leaves many transgender students without protections that may be offered in another district or school,” he said. 

 

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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