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Federal appeals court rules that anti-trans school bathroom policies are unconstitutional

Federal appeals court rules that anti-trans school bathroom policies are unconstitutional
Gavin Grimm at the GLAAD Media Awards in New York City, May 2017.Photo: Shutterstock

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit handed down a victory to transgender man Gavin Grimm in his five-year legal battle against his former school board’s transphobic policies blocking high school students from using bathrooms matching their gender identity.

The court ruled that trans students are protected by Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act which prohibits educational discrimination on the basis of sex and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which also prohibits unequal treatment under the law.

Related: Transgender woman was “karate chopped” by drunks for using the women’s bathroom

Grimm’s battle began in 2014 when Grimm’s then-high school principal allowed him to use the boys’ bathroom at his school for two months without incident. When parents later found out, they complained to the Gloucester County School Board of Virginia and the board declared that Grimm and other trans students should use a school unisex bathroom instead.

Grimm sued in 2015 and was set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2017, but the court sent the case back to the district court following Trump’s change to an Obama-era guidance on Title IX allowing trans students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

Then, on August 9, 2019, a federal court ruled that Grimm’s school board wrongly discriminated against him in 2015 by violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing equal protection and due process under the law, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.”

The school board appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit U.S. Federal Court on September 3, 2019 and that court essentially ruled the same as the lower court. It’s unclear if the school board will now appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If it does, the board may find the nation’s highest court prepared to rule against the board’s policy. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in June that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex.

All the same, Grimm is optimistic.

“All transgender students should have what I was denied,” he said, “the opportunity to be seen for who we are by our schools and our government.”

Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, the anti-suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth, said in a statement, “Today’s decision in favor of Gavin Grimm is a tremendous victory for transgender equality. When transgender and nonbinary students are denied access to school facilities or documents consistent with their gender identity, they are not only denied basic dignity and respect, but also fundamental human rights. “

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