A court of appeals ruled Wednesday that schools can’t deny trans students access to bathrooms that match their gender identity, in a major victory for transgender rights advocates.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Gavin Grimm, a former student at Virginia’s Gloucester High, who argued that his constitutional rights were violated when the school denied him access to the boys restroom.
In a 2-1 decision, the court rejected the school board’s argument that the policy was needed to protect student privacy.
“All transgender students should have what I was denied: the opportunity to be seen for who we are by our schools and our government,” Grimm said in a statement. “Today’s decision is an incredible affirmation for not just me, but for trans youth around the country.”
The decision is “a tremendous victory for transgender equality,” Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, told the Daily News in a statement.
“When transgender and nonbinary students are denied access to school facilities or documents consistent with their gender identity, they are are not only denied basic dignity and respect, but also fundamental human rights,” they said. “This decision reaffirms that anti-transgender discrimination is, in fact, illegal under the law.”
The Trevor Project, a human rights organization focused on crisis management and suicide prevention on LGBTQ and questioning youth, applauded the “immense courage and resiliency” shown by the plaintiff and his lawyers during the hard-fought battle.
“Grimm’s leadership has inspired trans youth across our country and this victory will work to save young lives,” Brinton added.
Wednesday’s decision is the latest development in a lengthy legal battle that began five years ago when Grimm, now a 20-year-old college student, was a sophomore at the school.
Grimm and his mother notified the school that he had transitioned to male, and that he had legally changed his name. For about two months the school allowed him to use the boy’s restroom. However, after receiving complaints by some parents and residents, the school board adopted a new policy that barred transgender students form using restroom facilities that corresponded to their gender identity.
In 2015 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Grimm, arguing that the policy was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and that it violated Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination by schools.
His case was supposed to go before the Supreme Court, but before the court could hear any arguments, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era guidance from the Department of Education that said that students should choose bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.
Last year a judge ruled that the board had discriminated against Grimm, but the board appealed the decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
David Corrigan, an attorney for the school, defended the policy, saying the school had always treated Grimm “with respect.” But since Grimm hadn’t undergone gender confirmation surgery, he wasn’t allowed to use the boys’ bathroom.
“Our position is it’s a binary concept, that you have males and females,” Corrigan told a panel of judges.
Joshua Block, an ACLU lawyer who represents Grimm, said that the board treated him differently than other students, by requiring him to use a private bathroom, an experience that was “stigmatizing and humiliating.”
“For the last five years, Gavin has been fighting for transgender students to ensure no one else deals with the discrimination he faced in high school,” Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia, said in a statement Wednesday. “The court rightfully stood with him to rule that trans students deserve to go to school with dignity, respect, and equal protection under the law.”
“The proudest moments of the federal judiciary have been when we affirm the burgeoning values of our bright youth, rather than preserve the prejudices of the past,” Judge Henry Floyd wrote in the decision.
“How shallow a promise of equal protection that would not protect Grimm from the fantastical fears and unfounded prejudices of his adult community,” he added.
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