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Supreme Court hands victory to transgender students by declining to hear critical bathroom case

Gloucester High School, Gloucester County School Board, Gavin Grimm, transgender
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The U.S. Supreme Court issued a big win for transgender rights today by declining to take up a critical Virginia bathroom case that had already been won in the lower courts.

In 2018, a federal district court ruled in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender man who sued Virginia’s Gloucester County School District in 2016 when he was told he couldn’t use the boys’ bathrooms in high school.

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The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that Grimm had a claim under Title IX, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in schools.

Citing other federal court rulings that have held that bans on sex discrimination also ban discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes, the court ruled that discrimination against transgender students was actionable under Title IX.

Grimm started using the boys’ restroom when he was a sophomore at Gloucester High School after he got permission from the principal. He used the boys’ restroom for several months without incident, but then some adults complained.

The school board held a meeting where Grimm was called a “freak” and compared to a dog that urinates on fire hydrants. The board passed a decision that banned him from using the boys’ restroom and required the school to come up with an alternative bathroom for him, so they converted a broom closet into a “unisex bathroom.”

Grimm sued the school board, saying that his rights under Title IX were violated. Title IX bans schools from discriminating on the basis of sex, which the Obama Administration interpreted as including discrimination against transgender students.

The school board tried to dismiss his claim, but a federal appeals court ruled that Title IX is ambiguous and deferred to the Obama Administration’s interpretation. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

But then the Trump Administration rescinded the Obama Administration’s interpretation of Title IX, so the Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear the case anymore and the school board tried to get Grimm’s claim dismissed. The Biden Administration has since reversed the Title IX interpretation again, taking the stance that it does in fact protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

After its defeat in the Virginia courts, in The Gloucester School Board lost again in a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and now, with the Supreme Court’s decision not to weigh in, Grimm’s victory stands.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas were the two who voted in favor of hearing the case.

Grimm’s unending determination and courage have brought him national renown in the fight for transgender rights. In 2017, the now 22-year-old was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

“I am glad that my years-long fight to have my school see me for who I am is over,” Grimm said in a statement released today by the ACLU after the Supreme Court announced its decision not to hear the case.

“Being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom, and the girl’s room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education. Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”

Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project, added: “This is the third time in recent years that the Supreme Court has allowed appeals court decisions in support of transgender students to stand. This is an incredible victory for Gavin and for transgender students around the country. Our work is not yet done, and the ACLU is continuing to fight against anti-trans laws targeting trans youth in states around the country.”

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