For months, school officials in rural Virginia, its Board of Education, civil liberties advocates, and the federal courts have been debating where transgendered teen Gavin Grimm can go to the bathroom while at school.
And for the first time ever, a federal appeals court ruled that Gavin can use the restroom associated with the gender he identifies with, not his biological gender.
Other states, including North Carolina, which just adopted a law requiring transgender people to use the bathroom associated with the gender listed on their birth certificate, must obey the ruling, too, the New York Times reported.
After months of struggle, Gavin Grimm said he feels “vindicated.”
“I feel so relieved and vindicated by the court’s ruling. Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school.”
The case started at Gloucester High in southeastern Virginia, where Gavin, 16, is a junior. Grimm was born female but identifies as male. So far, he’s legally changed his name and begun hormone therapy, NBC News reported.
At first, school administration supported him and let Grimm use the boys’ restroom. However, angry parents spoke out at two community meetings. Several people referred to Grimm as a girl and young lady, and one person even called him a “freak.” The school board ultimately sided with these parents and stopped making accommodations for Gavin.
An “intense public debate” followed, and according to NPR, the school adopted a policy that specified students use bathrooms according to their “biological genders.” The school later provided Grimm with a unisex bathroom.
Grimm said this only made life more difficult. Now banned from the boy’s bathroom, Gavin stopped using the restroom at school and developed urinary tract infections.
Gavin then teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union and accused the school of violating a federal law called Title IX, which prohibits schools that get federal funds from sexually discriminating against students. Grimm sought a preliminary injunction that would allow him to use the boys’ bathroom.
In September, a Federal District Court judge threw out Grimm’s claim. He did, however, allow Gavin’s case to go forward under the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled in Grimm’s favor. The three-judge panel reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the teen’s Title IX charge. They also determined that the Department of Education requires schools to “treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.” The ruling tells the lower court that they must re-evaluate Grimm’s request for a preliminary injunction.
“Today’s Fourth Circuit decision is a vindication for Gavin and a reinforcement of the Department of Education’s policy,” said Joshua Block, Gavin’s lawyer and senior staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project. “With this decision, we hope that schools and legislators will finally get the message that excluding transgender kids from the restrooms is unlawful sex discrimination.”
This case represents the first time a federal appellate court has determined that Title IX protects transgendered students. And because the court covers multiple states in the Fourth Circuit, including Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, West Virginia, and South Carolina, all must abide by the declaration that Title IX allows transgendered students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
Advocates say that North Carolina’s recently enacted law now violates Title IX. Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will “respect these court rulings and make sure these court rulings are abided to.”
Transgender students are allowed, by law, to use restrooms according to their gender identity in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington. Besides North Carolina, South Dakota has adopted a similar ban.
[Photo by Steve Helber/AP Images]