A federal judge has sided with transgender activist and former high school student Gavin Grimm, finding that the Gloucester County School Board policy that barred him from using the boys’ restroom violated his constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen found that the board’s restroom policy — in which transgender individuals must either use the restroom of their assigned sex at birth, or use several makeshift “unisex” restrooms that used to be broom closets — violated Grimm’s right to Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and discriminated against him on the basis of sex under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.
During his sophomore year of high school, in the fall of 2014, Grimm and his mother initially approached administrators at Gloucester High School to inform them that he was transitioning. After talks with school officials, Grimm was allowed to use the boys’ bathroom for a couple of weeks, until a parent complained to the school board.
Bending to public pressure from community members and concerned parents, the board then voted, 6-1, to adopt a policy in which all students must use restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that match their assigned sex at birth, or else use a single-stall restroom, like one in the school nurse’s office or one of few single-stall toilets inside converted broom closets.
But Grimm felt singled out by this policy, and eventually sued, alleging that the board was discriminating against him.
The 4th U.S. Circuit had previously ruled that Grimm had a right to sue for sex discrimination, but based its opinion on a narrow interpretation of guidance provided by the Obama administration.
Grimm’s case was scheduled to go before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Trump administration then rescind the previous Obama-era guidance, forcing the high court to send the case back to lower courts for re-evaluation.
Wright Allen’s decision is notable because it adopts a broader interpretation of Title IX by defining gender identity discrimination as a form of sex discrimination.
If the Gloucester County School Board chooses to appeal, the case would then be sent back to the 4th Circuit, which could potentially embrace that more robust interpretation and set the stage for a final showdown before the Supreme Court.
In a 28-page opinion, Wright Allen wrote that parents, teachers, and school administrators share “a solemn obligation to guard the well-being of the children in their charge.”
She said she didn’t doubt that many of the “expressions of concern” from parents arise from a “genuine love for our children and the fierce instinct to protect and raise our children safely in a society that is growing ever more complex.”
“There can be no doubt that all involved in this case have the best interests of the students at heart,” she wrote.
However, she said, the policy singled out Grimm and subjected him to grief, pain, and distress, with Grimm experiencing suicidal thoughts due in part to his disparate treatment and the school district’s refusal to acknowledge his gender identity.
“The perpetuation of harm to a child stemming from unconstitutional conduct cannot be allowed to stand,” Wright Allen wrote. “These acknowledgements are made in the hopes of making a positive difference to Mr. Grimm and to the everyday lives of our children who rely upon us to protect them compassionately and in ways that more perfectly respect the dignity of every person.”
Wright Allen also issued an injunction requiring the school board to update the gender marker Grimm’s high school transcripts to reflect that he is male.
She noted that the board has not proven its has some overriding public interest in refusing to change the gender marker on Grimm’s records, whereas Grimm experiences hardship when he has to show identification that does not comport with his gender identity, thus outing himself as transgender.
The board now has 10 days to update Grimm’s high school transcripts and provide him with copies that contain the correct gender marker.
Grimm expressed gratitude at obtaining the decision that he has been seeking for the better part of the past four years.
“It is such a relief to achieve this closure and vindication from the court after four years of fighting not just for myself but for trans youth across America,” he said. “I promise to continue to advocate for as long as it takes for everyone to be able to live their authentic lives freely, in public, and without harassment and discrimination.”
The Human Rights Campaign also weighed in on the decision.
“Every student should feel safe at school, regardless of gender identity. Transgender students are covered by Title IX and the United States Constitution and are entitled to the same rights and protections as every other student,” HRC State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said in a statement.”With the Trump-Pence administration’s barrage of attacks on LGBTQ people in this country, including against students, we are pleased that yet another federal court decision has reaffirmed legal rights and dignity of transgender people.”
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