The Gloucester County School Board has asked the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear a lawsuit, brought by Gavin Grimm, a transgender Gloucester High School alumnus, challenging the county’s policy on sex-segregated restrooms.
Grimm previously sued the school board after being denied access to the boys’ restroom at his school due to his gender identity. Although Grimm had previously been permitted to use the boys’ restroom without incident, the school board changed its policy after someone filed an anonymous complaint.
As a result, Grimm was required to use the restroom in the nurse’s office, or, much later, one of several single-stall restrooms that were constructed out of broom closets. The makeshift restrooms were available to any other student that wished to use them, but only Grimm was barred from single-sex facilities.
Following nearly five years of back-and-forth fights in the courts, a federal judge in Virginia found last August that the board had violated Grimm’s constitutional rights by barring him from the boys’ restroom, and placing only restrictions on the facilities he used, while allowing other students to utilize whichever facilities they felt most comfortable using.
Last month, a three-judge panel on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that lower court ruling on a 2-1 vote, finding that Grimm was a victim of sex discrimination, in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. That finding was based on a recent Supreme Court decision from June clarifying that LGBTQ people are protected by federal civil rights laws prohibiting various forms of discrimination.
In his opinion, Judge Henry Floyd, writing for the majority, found that the Gloucester County School Board’s actions constituted a “special kind of discrimination” that had an adverse effect on Grimm, both emotionally and physically, particularly after he began to suffer from urinary tract infections because he felt ashamed being relegated to specific bathrooms.
But on Wednesday, the school board asked for a rehearing of the case by all 15 sitting judges on the 4th Circuit — a request that is granted less than 1 percent of the time — in the hope of obtaining a more favorable ruling, reports the Daily Press. A majority, or eight members, must vote in favor of hearing the case in order for such a petition to be granted.
In its petition, lawyers for the school board argued that the three-judge panel had incorrectly found that the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, instead arguing that all students are treated equally under the current policy, which is needed to protect the bodily privacy of cisgender students.
They also warned that a decision in Grimm’s favor would have a substantial impact on students in schools across the nation who do not wish to share facilities with those they believe to be biologically different from them.
If the full circuit court either refuses to hear the case, or rehears the case and decides in Grimm’s favor, the school board can then choose to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Transgender students belong in our schools,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement following the 4th Circuit’s decision, adding that schools have “an obligation to create an environment that is safe and welcoming for all students,” including transgender students.
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