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Gavin Grimm’s Case Bumped Down To An Even Lower Court

The Gloucester County transgender teen's quest to reform his high school's bathroom policy suffers another setback.

Marilyn Drew Necci | August 4, 2017

The legal saga Gavin Grimm has endured over the past couple of years is starting to stretch on as long as George R.R. Martin’s Game Of Thrones series–and judging by the most recent developments in the case, it’s also just as bleak. The Gloucester County, VA teen initially came to public attention back in 2015 when he sued his local school board for sex discrimination, contending that the school board’s policy requiring all students to use the bathroom corresponding with the student’s “biological gender” was discriminatory and unfair.

Grimm’s initial suit was predicated on guidelines issued by the Obama administration in 2014, instructing schools to interpret Title IX guidelines on “sex discrimination” as extending to transgender students. However, in early 2017, only weeks after taking office, the Trump administration rescinded those guidelines, effectively gutting Grimm’s case just as it was about to be heard by the United States Supreme Court.

Sure enough, the Supreme Court kicked Grimm’s case back down to a lower court, sending it to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and asking them to review the case in light of the changes to Title IX called for by the Trump administration. The court was scheduled to hear oral arguments for the case on September 12 of this year.

Now, in a further depressing development, the Fourth Circuit Court said yesterday that a lower court must rule on whether Grimm’s case is still relevant in light of his having graduated from his high school in June.

The issue here relates to what’s known as “standing.” Also known under the Latin term “locus standi,” standing is the ability of a person filing suit to demonstrate sufficient connection to the action challenged to merit that person’s lawsuit. In this case, Grimm, who is challenging the bathroom policies of his high school, may or may not have lost “standing” in light of his graduation. It is the contention of his lawyers that his potential return for “alumni and school-community events” gave his claim continued relevance, while Gloucester County School Board attorneys contend that Grimm’s case is moot unless he can cite a “particular intention to return to school after graduation.”

To those of us following the case with great interest from the sidelines, this probably seems like a dodge of the most transparent sort. After all, this case is way bigger than Grimm; as with landmark cases like Roe v. Wade or Loving v. Virginia, Gavin Grimm’s case has the possibility of changing the lives of those who might be in a similar situation for decades into the future. This, no doubt, is why the American Civil Liberties Union got involved in Grimm’s case very early on. The precedent a Supreme Court case sets often has far more important consequences than the result of the specific matter at hand. Should it even matter whether Gavin Grimm still needs to return to his alma mater?

However, where the court is concerned, this is exactly what matters most. Laws might seem transparently unjust to those of us who are just regular US citizens trying to live our lives. But unless a specific person affected by that specific law goes to court to challenge the law, it will remain on the books. Legislators can try to pass new laws, but this is a slow, complex process. At the end of the day, court judgments are often quicker and easier to obtain.

The question is: can Gavin Grimm still demonstrate sufficient standing to obtain any sort of judgment? It appears we will learn the answer once and for all when the case is heard by the district court it’s been remanded to. At this point, though, it seems at least somewhat likely that another transgender high school student will need to come forward before any significant movement on this issue takes place. My advice to transgender teens reading this: start emailing the ACLU now. I guarantee they’d love to hear from you.