Metro Weekly

Gloucester County transgender student gets support in appeal

Amicus briefs from the Obama administration and health associations bolster student's fight against restroom policy

Gavin Grimm and legal team - Photo: via ACLUVA.org
Gavin Grimm and legal team – Photo: via ACLUVA.org

The Gloucester County student challenging his school’s restroom policy for transgender and gender nonconforming students is getting support in his appeal from both the federal government and medical and mental health associations.

Gavin Grimm, a junior at Gloucester High School, is appealing a decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar rejecting a request for an injunction that would allow Grimm to use the restroom consistent with his gender identity. Grimm had previously been allowed to use the boys’ restroom during his sophomore year, and did so for a period of almost two months, without incident.

That policy was reversed after administrators and members of the Gloucester County School Board caved to public pressure amid erroneous misperceptions about what it means to be transgender. They ordered Grimm to instead use a staff restroom or other “alternative private” facility. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia, Grimm filed a lawsuit challenging the policy, asking for a preliminary injunction regarding Grimm’s restroom use for this current school term.

Doumar also previously threw out part of Grimm’s lawsuit related to Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, which covers sex discrimination. In response, Grimm’s legal team filed an appeal to the 4th Circuit. His lawyers argued that the restroom policy, as adopted by the Gloucester County School Board, violates both prohibitions on sex discrimination under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration filed an amicus brief in support of Grimm’s appeal. As first reported by Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed, the filing is significant because it would pertain to any and all challenges related to transgender discrimination under Title IX in the 4th Circuit, which covers Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.

In the brief, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education embrace the arguments put forth by Grimm’s lawyers, writing: “Prohibiting a transgender male student from using boys’ restrooms, when other non-transgender male students face no such restriction, deprives him not only of equal educational opportunity but also ‘of equal status, respect, and dignity.’

“GCSB’s restroom policy singles out G.G. and treats him differently from all other students because the sex he was assigned at birth does not align with his gender identity. Because that policy is ‘literally discrimination “because of … sex,”‘ … G.G. established a likelihood of success on his Title IX claim, and the district court thus erred in dismissing it,” the Obama administration concludes.

Another amicus brief, filed on behalf of an array medical and mental health associations that specialize in adolescent development and transgender health by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), argues that being able to use the same bathroom as other students at school is critical for the healthy development of transgender adolescents.

“The psychological and medical community recognizes a professional consensus regarding the best way to support the development of healthy transgender adolescents, and schools play a crucial role in assuring that transgender adolescents receive this necessary support,” the brief reads. “A school that fails to support its transgender students risks severely hampering their development and long-term wellbeing. Refusing to respect and affirm a transgender student’s gender identity communicates a clear, negative message: there is something wrong with the student that warrants this unequal treatment. This message reaches the entire school community and often results in some students mirroring this mistreatment by harassing and abusing their transgender peers.

“In this case, G.’s school initially recognized its crucial role and affirmed G.’s gender identity by treating him the same as other boys at the school with respect to access to the boys’ restrooms,” the brief continues. “The school board’s later-enacted policy at issue here directly undermines the school’s critical support of G.: it demands that the school enforce stigmatizing and harmful mistreatment of G. by excluding him from the boys’ restrooms and interfering with his educational opportunities. The policy signals to other students and the entire school community that, according to the school board, G. is not the same as the other boys at school and is not entitled to the same equal access to educational opportunities.”

“Schools must take a proactive role in supporting transgender students,” Asaf Orr, an attorney for NCLR’s Transgender Youth Project, said in a statement following the filing of the second amicus brief. “Unfortunately, in this case, the school board allowed their own misconceptions and fears about transgender youth, as well as those of the community, to drive policy. As a result, the school board’s policy perpetuates negative stereotypes, isolates, and harms transgender students instead of creating welcoming school environment for all students. This is not only contrary to the professional obligation of educators and administrators, but ignores the medical and mental health research on child development and the standards of care for transgender youth. Stigmatizing transgender students is not only wrong, but illegal.”

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

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