Virginia transgender teen Gavin Grimm was honored Wednesday by the LGBT employee group at the U.S. Department of Justice — the department “whose leadership undercut his landmark case before it could be heard by the Supreme Court,” the Associated Press reports.
Grimm, who received the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award for “outstanding contributions to the LGBT community” from DOJ Pride, had sued his school district in Gloucester County for the right to use the boys’ restroom at his high school.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in Grimm’s favor, based partly on guidelines issued by the Justice and Education departments under President Obama that said trans students should be allowed to use the facilities appropriate for their gender identity. But under Donald Trump, the departments rescinded those guidelines, saying the matter should be left to individual school districts. So the Supreme Court, which was going to hear an appeal of Grimm’s case by the Gloucester County schools, vacated the Fourth Circuit ruling and sent the case back to that court for reconsideration based solely on the sex discrimination provision in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Grimm was nonetheless happy to be honored by Justice Department employees at Wednesday’s reception, titled Solidarity Through Pride and held in observance of LGBT Pride Month in the Great Hall of the Justice Department building. “Given that today’s administration is largely hostile to LGBT people and especially dangerous to LGBT youth, the gravity of receiving an award from DOJ itself, specifically the pride alliance within it, is not lost on me at all,” Grimm told the AP after the ceremony, which was closed to the media. “It’s beautifully symbolic of the fact that there are still people working for equality in every corner of the world, and they will continue to do so no matter what happens.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who heads the Justice Department, has proved hostile to LGBT rights throughout his career. He was absent from Wednesday’s event but had made supportive remarks about it last week, even pledging to defend the rights of trans people, the Washington Blade notes. The top department official at the reception was Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente, who was appointed during the Obama administration and is also U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
“Whatever an individual’s background, Americans come together to support one another,” Boente said, according to the Blade. “In this country, we know that our unity makes us stronger. We’re united in our respect for the rule of law and the preservation of the freedoms of all of us. Americans understand that in this country liberty means liberty for all. Freedom belongs not to any one race, gender, or orientation.”
Boente also praised Capitol Police officer Crystal Griner, who helped take down the gunman who opened fire on a congressional baseball practice earlier this month. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise was wounded in the attack, as were Griner and others, but she and her fellow officers were credited with preventing further carnage. Griner, who is married to a woman, “is rightly a hero of the LGBT community; she is also a hero for the entire country,” Boente said, according to Blade reporter Chris Johnson, who was asked to leave the ceremony shortly after Boente made that statement.
Johnson’s account notes that Pride events for the DOJ and other federal departments were open to the media throughout Obama’s two terms. Even with Trump as president, this month Johnson was able to cover a Pride event at the Pentagon, and Blade editor Kevin Naff gave the keynote address at the Small Business Administration’s Pride observance, making the no-media policy at the Justice Department most unusual.
“These events have historically been open to the media, and this action at DOJ today is an unfortunate break with tradition,” Naff said in the Blade article. “Holding Pride celebrations behind closed doors violates the very spirit of such events, and we urge all government agencies to let the sun shine in.”
Other honorees at the Justice Department event were two teams from the department’s Civil Rights Division, both receiving the James R. Douglass Award, the Blade reports. One team challenged North Carolina’s anti-LGBT House Bill 2 in a lawsuit that has now been withdrawn, as the state has repealed HB 2 (but replaced it with a new law that LGBT advocates still find unsatisfactory). The other team sued Southeastern Oklahoma State University, alleging discrimination against a transgender professor. Both suits were filed during the Obama administration.
The event was one of several departmental Pride Month celebrations that proceeded even though Trump, unlike Obama, has not issued a proclamation for Pride Month or held a White House reception for it.