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ACLU Challenges Virginia School for Barring Trans Boy From Bathroom

ACLU Challenges Virginia School for Barring Trans Boy From Bathroom


On behalf of a trans high-schooler, the ACLU argues that "privacy" in bathrooms can easily be handled without being discriminatory.

Gavin Grimm spent the first months of 10th grade using the boys' bathroom at his Gloucester, Va., high school just like the other young men who surrounded him.

After having told administrators he was trans, gaining explicit permission from the school principal, and encountering no resistance from his peers, the 15-year-old thought he would have no issues continuing to use the restroom. And he didn't, until the local school board got involved.

In mid-November the Gloucester County School Board began discussing whether Grimm and other transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom that accords with their gender identity, local TV station WTKR reported. The issue was raised, according to Grimm's father, David, not by his son's classmates but by parents who did not understand what being transgender meant.

Such parents were, says a school board spokesperson, concerned about their children's "privacy." However, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, such worries do not give schools the right to bar certain groups of students from using particular restrooms.

In the days leading up to their early December school board meeting, ACLU officials warned the school board that voting to bar Grimm from the boys' restroom would be a violation of his rights and invite legal action. "Generalized and speculative concerns cannot justify a blanket policy preventing a transgender boy from using the same restrooms as other boys," their public letter stated. The result, they said, would not be increased privacy and dignity, but increased ostracization for Grimm and other trans youth.

Nonetheless, on December 9 the school board voted 6-1 that all students in the Gloucester school system would be required to use the restrooms and locker rooms that accord with their "corresponding biological genders," while those showing "sincere gender identity issues" would be provided a separate, private bathroom, reported a local paper, the Daily Press.

The decision was immediately decried by the national American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Virginia as discriminatory.

"Our school boards should be focused on making Virginia schools as inclusive and welcoming as possible," explained the ACLU of Virginia's legal director, Rebecca Glenberg. "This new policy will do the opposite. Forcing transgender students to use segregated facilities not only violates federal law, but is also intensely stigmatizing."

Grimm's numerous local supporters agreed, pointing out, as the lone dissenting school board voter did, that schools can both protect students' privacy by providing stalls within boys' and girls' bathrooms and still comply with Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, the law that prohibits "sex discriminiation" and guarantees equal treatment of male and female students in all federally funded school programs.

"Sex discrimination" has increasingly been interpreted to refer not only to equality for female students in sex-segregated activities and sports, but also to include "gender identity." As such, Title IX has been applied to cases of bias or mistreatment against transgender students, with the Department of Education explicitly stating December 1 that trans students must be generally treated "consistent with their gender identity in all aspects of the planning, implementation, enrollment, operation, and evaluation of single-sex classes."

Armed with this knowledge, the ACLU made good on its intention to take legal action on Grimm's behalf 10 days after the school board's controversional decision. On December 19, the ACLU and its Virginia affiliate filed an administrative complaint against the Gloucester County Public Schools with the Department of Justice and Department of Education, citing Title IX.

"These policies inflict real harm on real students. By adopting this new 'biological gender' policy solely to prevent Gavin from using the same bathroom as other boys, Gloucester Public Schools sends an incredibly stigmatizing message that segregates Gavin and other transgender students from their peers," said ACLU attorney Joshua Block in a statement. "Schools can address privacy concerns by making unisex bathrooms more widely available for any student who is not comfortable using a communal restroom facility, but they cannot discriminatorily require transgender students -- and only transgender students -- to use unisex bathrooms."

"Now that the board has passed this policy, school no longer feels as safe and welcoming as it did before," Grimm added in the statement. "Being singled out is a glaring reminder of my differences and causes me significant discomfort every time I have to use the restroom."

Gloucester County Public Schools has not publicly responded to the ACLU's complaint.

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Mitch Kellaway