Federal Appeals Court Should Rule Religion Can’t Be Used As Excuse To Discriminate Against Gavin Grimm And Other Transgender Students

Gavin Grimm didn’t ask to be the face of the fight for transgender civil rights in America. But that’s just what he became when he asked his Virginia high school to recognize his humanity.

“(W)hen people assign monikers like that to me – ‘pioneer’ or ‘hero’ – I’m still having a hard time getting used to that,” Gavin, now a senior, said in an interview published yesterday by The Daily Beast. “I don’t know that I ever will. And I don’t know that I necessarily agree. I just think that I was sort of doing what needed to be done.”

What needed to be done was to insist that the Gloucester County School Board allow transgender students like Gavin to use the restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. And when the school board refused – after holding public meetings that included protestors referencing their religious beliefs as they objected to Gavin’s request – Gavin, then just 15, agreed to take his fight to court.

More than two years later, and with Gavin approaching his high school graduation next month, that battle is about to enter its next phase, and Americans United continues to be involved.

AU was joined by our allies in filing a friend-of-the-court brief yesterday evening asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to affirm 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.

Religious or moral beliefs cannot dictate how government enforces the law, especially when those beliefs would result in harm to others.

“To be sure, some people hold deeply entrenched moral and religious beliefs regarding traditional sex roles and transgender people,” the brief explains. “Some of them spoke at the (School) Board’s meetings; others have filed amicus briefs in this case, either in this Court or in the Supreme Court. They are entitled to hold whatever views they wish; no court can dictate how a person should think. But neither this Court nor the Supreme Court has never allowed such views to override federal antidiscrimination laws or to play any role in their interpretation.”

Joining AU in the brief are the Anti-Defamation League, Bend the Arc, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, Keshet, the National LGBT Bar Association, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Union for Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism, plus the law firm Hogan Lovells.

Gavin Grimm continues his fight to be able to use the boys restrooms at his Virginia high school. (AP Photo, Steve Helber)

As AU Legal Fellow Carmen Green previously wrote on our blog, Gavin’s case has had a somewhat torturous history. The Fourth Circuit already ruled in Gavin’s favor once, in a decision that was informed in part by federal guidance that was issued by the Obama administration and affirms Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use the facilities that best fit their gender identity.

The school board had appealed that Fourth Circuit ruling and arguments in the case were set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March – the first transgender-rights case to reach the high court. But in late February, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era guidance. As a result, the Supreme Court vacated the Fourth Circuit’s ruling and ordered that court to rehear the case in light of the new federal guidelines.

“It just resets the case to where it was two years ago,” American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Joshua Block, who is representing Gavin, explained to The Daily Beast. “Basically a do-over without the interpretation of the Department of Education affecting the analysis.”

While the case, G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, will continue and we urge the Fourth Circuit to again rule in Gavin’s favor, a resolution likely will come well after Gavin graduates from Gloucester High School. Nonetheless, he’s committed to continuing to fight for the rights of all transgender students.

“It’s not something I can just run away from, morally or practically,” Gavin said. “This is something that my name is tied to, my face is tied to. It’s going to follow me. And I made that decision early on.

“I’m prepared to stick it out for as long as I need to,” he added.

And AU is prepared to fight alongside Gavin – it’s the least we can do in support of this young man’s bravery.

You can learn more about our efforts to make sure religion is not used as an excuse to discriminate against him or anyone else through our Protect Thy Neighbor project.