Metro Weekly

4 Northern Virginia school districts call on courts to support transgender students’ rights

School districts file brief supporting Gavin Grimm's ongoing lawsuit over transgender accommodations

Gavin Grimm - Photo: Todd Franson
Gavin Grimm – Photo: Todd Franson

Four Northern Virginia school districts have signed onto an amicus brief declaring their support for the rights of transgender students as they weigh in on a lawsuit brought by transgender teen Gavin Grimm, who fought for years to be allowed to use the boys’ restroom at his high school.

The school boards of Alexandria, Falls Church, Arlington County, and Fairfax County said in the brief that they support allowing transgender students to be treated according to their gender identity in school, including with respect to which restrooms they are able to access.

All four school systems have passed LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies in recent years, most notably Fairfax County, which is the single-largest school district in the commonwealth of Virginia. Those policies don’t expressly guarantee all transgender students access to facilities matching their gender identity, but schools work with individual students to create special restroom or changing room accommodations.

Grimm, 19, now attending college in California, originally sued the Gloucester County School Board in 2015 over its restroom policy requiring students to use the restroom matching their biological sex at birth. He argued that the policy his rights under both the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

Writing in support of arguments that have previously been advanced by Grimm’s lawyers, the Northern Virginia school systems say in they “must embrace the thousands of students in Virginia public schools who…identify as transgender.”

“The national statistics reflecting discrimination against transgender students are deeply troubling. Studies have consistently shown that transgender students are subject to harassment, bullying, and discomfort at far greater rates than other students. For instance, surveys of gender-expansive youth have found that: 53% were bullied on school property in the previous year; 42% have received physical threats due to transgender identity; and 84% have experienced verbal threats because of their actual or perceived identity. …

“The statistics available about transgender students in Virginia tell a similar story. Fully 80% of Virginia respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, who were either out as transgender or perceived as transgender, reported some form of mistreatment between kindergarten and Grade 12: 51% were verbally harassed, 21% were physically attacked, and 12% were sexually assaulted. In 15% of cases, the mistreatment was so severe that the student left school.”

The school systems also note that 12 Virginia school districts, whose students comprise nearly 43% of students in the entire commonwealth, have adopted policies prohibiting discrimination based on gender-identity. The districts argue that those policies have been carefully crafted to address transgender students’ needs and provide accommodations specifically tailored to individual students.

“As a result of the policies adopted by amici, our schools are now better equipped to address requests and offer potential options in areas of concern to transgender students, such as the use of preferred names and pronouns, the clinical support and resources for students and their families, and access to restrooms corresponding to their gender identity,” the brief reads.

Furthermore, the districts argue, the inclusion of gender identity in school district’s nondiscrimination policies has produced positive outcomes that have helped transgender students learn in a safe and supportive environment. Additionally, predictions of certain negative consequences — including increases in the number of males improperly accessing female restrooms and locker rooms, an increase in sex assaults, increase in the suicide rate of transgender students, increased danger to cisgender students, and even a decrease in test scores among cisgender students, particularly minorities — have proved unfounded.

A parent holds up a sign opposing Policy 1450, which added gender identity to Fairfax County Public Schools’ nondiscrimination policy. Photo by John Riley

“None of those ominous predictions has been borne out in any of amici’s schools,” the brief reads. “Sex offenders and other predators have not intruded into school bathrooms and locker rooms. … [T]ransgender students have reported increased, not decreased, comfort in the school environment. And while transgender students can now focus better on learning, the academic performance of other students has not been hindered.

“In fact, amici are not aware of any jurisdiction, in Virginia or elsewhere, where prohibiting gender-identity discrimination has led to such negative consequences,” the brief noted. “During the June 2017 meeting at which the Prince William County School Board revised its nondiscrimination policy, board member Justin Wilk presented data confirming the absence of such incidents in the country’s 26 largest school divisions (including FCPS) that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

“…Wilk’s research showed that in these 26 school districts — representing some 3.6 million students — there have been zero attacks on or by transgender students in school restrooms, and zero incidents of males masquerading as females to gain improper access to restrooms.”

Grimm’s case is currently scheduled for a July trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Initially, Grimm’s lawsuit alleging that his rights under Title IX had been violated was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and, upon appeal by the Gloucester County School Board, was slated to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, because the 4th Circuit had adopted a narrow interpretation of Title IX’s prohibition on “sex-based discrimination” based on guidance from Obama administration, the rescinding of that policy by the Trump administration shortly after taking office eliminated the basis on which the case was decided. As a result, the case was sent back to the district court level to determine Grimm’s Title IX and Equal Protection claims on their merits.

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