Federal Appeals Court Sides With Transgender Teen In Landmark Ruling

A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, handed down a landmark ruling today after the court sided with a transgender teen, challenging his high school’s decision to ban him from the boy’s bathroom.

The ruling today comes as North Carolina and Mississippi face legal challenges to their religious freedom laws, which would restrict which bathrooms transgender individuals could “legally” make use of, restricting bathroom use to the gender assigned on an individual’s birth certificate, rather than an individual’s preferred gender.

In siding with high school junior Gavin Grimm today, the federal appeals court deferred to the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of policies that allow transgender students access to bathrooms that match their preferred gender rather than their biological sex – considered by many to be a big win for the Obama Administration. The Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX protections include transgender individuals as a class protected from discrimination by schools, an interpretation upheld today by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity,” wrote Judge Henry Floyd of the Federal Appeals Court.

The federal appeals court’s transgender discrimination decision to overturn the lower court’s ruling on transgender discrimination came down to a 2-1 vote, with the higher court asserting that the lower court had used the wrong legal standard in preventing Gavin Grimm from obtaining a preliminary injunction. The injunction would have allowed the transgender teen to use the school bathrooms according to his gender rather than his biological sex, reports The Washington Post.

The federal appeals court’s ruling on transgender discrimination today could have consequences for the so-called “religious freedom laws,” otherwise known as bathroom bills, which were passed in states like North Carolina and Mississippi. The 4th Circuit, which handed down the landmark ruling on transgender discrimination today, is the highest U.S. court to rule on the issue of transgender discrimination, setting a precedent that could have a powerful effect on the outcome of lawsuits in Mississippi and North Carolina as transgender citizens and civil rights organizations challenge the controversial laws in court.

Today’s federal appeals court decision is good news for Gavin Grimm, but it’s not the end of the road for Grimm’s lawsuit. The federal appeals court ruled that transgender discrimination is prohibited under Title IX, and that Grimm should have been allowed a preliminary injunction allowing him to use his preferred bathroom temporarily, while his lawsuit against the Gloucester County school board continues. Essentially, the dismissal of Grimm’s lawsuit was overturned and kicked back to the lower court.

While the appeals court decision today is a big victory for Grimm, it’s just the beginning for the transgender teen. The appeals court decision sided with Grimm, ruled that the lower court’s decision was faulty, and sent the case back to the federal district court which initially dismissed the lawsuit and Grimm’s request for an injunction; but, the federal appeals court didn’t grant the injunction or make a decision that would decide the outcome of Grimm’s pending lawsuit against the school board.

As BuzzFeed reports, the decision today will likely have ramifications outside the state of Virginia, as the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court which handed down the transgender discrimination ruling today, includes the state of North Carolina. Federal courts in North Carolina will be bound by the precedent set in the federal court of appeals today. Precisely how the precedent will affect pending cases against the state of North Carolina for its religious freedom law, however, remains to be seen.

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