Gavin Grimm, the transgender teenager challenging his Virginia high school’s discriminatory bathroom policy, received a bittersweet victory on Tuesday when a federal court said the school’s policy violated his constitutional rights.
Though it meant another win for him and transgender students, it came a year after Grimm, now 19 and living in California, graduated from Gloucester High School.
“Grimm said he broke down in tears when he received a text message alerting him to the ruling, feeling vindicated – and saddened that it came too late to help him,” wrote Moriah Balingit in The Washington Post.
“I came to understand a very long time ago that this was not going to affect me in a way that positively impacted my ability to function in school. … The issue is for all the kids out there who were waiting for something like this,” said Grimm, who told The Post that being forced to use a separate, unisex bathroom at Gloucester contributed to his feelings of alienation in high school. “The tears were because there was a vindication of what I’ve been saying for four years.”
Grimm’s legal battle began in 2014 when Gloucester’s school board began debating whether he and other transgender students could use the restrooms that corresponded with their gender identity. Following combative public meetings that included religion-based objections to recognizing and protecting transgender people, the school board declined to let Grimm use the boys’ restrooms and instead directed him to use one school bathroom designated as gender-neutral.
The school’s policy violated Grimm’s dignity and his civil rights, and with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, he filed a federal lawsuit, Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board.
The case has had a convoluted journey through the legal system. It was on track to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2017 – the first transgender-rights case to reach the high court. But the Trump administration threw a wrench into the works: About a month after Trump took office, his Departments of Education and Justice rescinded Obama-era guidance to schools that provided that Title IX, a federal civil-rights law, prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of gender identity and requires them to offer transgender students equal access to school amenities, including restrooms. Since the lower court’s ruling had incorporated the now-rescinded guidance, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the 4th Circuit for reconsideration.
Grimm’s graduation from high school last spring added another wrinkle, and the case ultimately ended up at a U.S. District Court in Virginia, which ruled in his favor yesterday. Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen determined the Gloucester policy amounted to sex discrimination under Title IX and dismissed the district’s argument that the policy protects other students’ privacy rights.
“[T]here were many other ways to protect privacy interests in a non-discriminatory and more efficient manner than barring Mr. Grimm from using the boys’ restrooms,” Allen wrote. “The Board’s arguments that the policy did not discriminate against any one class of students is resoundingly unpersuasive.”
Americans United twice filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Grimm, including with the U.S. Supreme Court, explaining that religious or moral beliefs cannot dictate how government enforces the law, especially when those beliefs would result in harm to others. AU also has filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting transgender rights in other cases, including in a Pennsylvania case on behalf of a school district that has a bathroom policy that protects transgender students’ rights and in a Michigan case on behalf of a transgender employee fired from a funeral parlor due to the owner’s religious beliefs about gender.
Americans United will continue to fight against attempts to use religion to harm others. You can learn more about our work through our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign.
(Photo credit: AP Photo/Steve Helber)