Federal Court rules in favor of Gloucester County transgender teen’s bathroom challenge, sets precedent for NC HB 2 challenge
Gavin Grim, a 16-year-old Gloucester County public school student, just wanted to use the restroom. But the local school board enacted a policy requiring students to use restrooms aligned with their birth gender, and Gavin is trans male.
Until today, the courts had sided with Gloucester County, often saying the policy is a privacy issue, with one lower court judge calling Gavin’s fight for equal treatment an “uphill battle” in between calling him a “girls that wants to be a boy.”
But all of that is moot now as a Federal Court hearing held earlier this year yielded a verdict today supporting Grimm’s claim that the school’s new policy violated his rights under Title IX from the department of education.
“Today’s Fourth Circuit decision is a vindication for Gavin and a reinforcement of the Department of Education’s policy.” said Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney at theACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project, in a statement sent out shortly after today’s verdict. “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.”
Grimm echoed that gratification saying he felt “so relieved” by the court’s ruling.
“Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school,” he said.
The ruling sent down by the Federal court details their reasoning for supporting Grimm, including citing a Department of Justice mandate sent out in January of this year which explained transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.
The core of this ruling involves Title IX, the federal program that gives money to schools, including gender identity as a protected group under the class of sex discrimination.
“They’ve said quite clearly that Title IX prohibition against sex discrimination in federally funded programs, includes prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity,” said VA ACLU Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga.
The order also vacated the lower judge’s denial of a preliminary injunction which would have forced the school to allow Grimm to use the correct restroom.
“They told him to get it right,” Gastanaga said.
While this hearing as well as the January hearing, both sought the preliminary injunction, Gastanaga said this should be the end of legal proceedings around the issue “Our hope is that the school division reads the opinion, understands what the law is, and changes it’s policy in that no further taxpayer-expensed proceedings are required,” she said. “Unless one hopes to spend more money and go to the US Supreme Court.”
Because the Fourth Circuit Federal Court includes North Carolina in its jurisdiction, Gastanaga said HB2′s bathroom policy could be struck as well. “The law would also apply in North Carolina,” she said. “The law protects people against gender identity discrimination as a reasonable understanding of sex discrimination.”
We’ve pulled some choice quotes from the full ruling below:
“When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex . . . a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity…
Although the regulation may refer unambiguously to males and females, it is silent as to how a school should determine whether a transgender individual is a male or female for the purpose of access to sex-segregated restrooms. We conclude that the regulation is susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading— determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia—and the Department’s interpretation—determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity.
It is not clear to us how the [Gloucester County School's policy] would apply in a number of situations—even under the Board’s own “biological gender” formulation. For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident? 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 to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.
…this interpretation cannot properly be considered a post hoc rationalization because it is in line with the existing guidances and regulations of a number of federal agencies—all of which provide that transgender individuals should be permitted access to the restroom that corresponds with their gender identities.
In many respects, we are in agreement with the dissent. We agree that “sex” should be construed uniformly throughout Title IX and its implementing regulations. We agree that it has indeed been commonplace and widely accepted to separate public restrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities on the basis of sex. We agree that “an individual has a legitimate and important interest in bodily privacy such that his or her nude or partially nude body, genitalia, and other private parts” are not involuntarily exposed.
It is not apparent to us, however, that the truth of these propositions undermines the conclusion we reach regarding the level of deference due to the Department’s interpretation of its own regulations.
“Every day that the stay remains in effect, Gavin loses another day of his senior year that he will never get back.”September 14, 2016
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