A ruling today by the U.S. Court of Appeals will have far-reaching effects on the debate over which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender people can use.
In a 2-1 decision handed down Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District ruled in favor of Gavin Grimm, a 16-year-old transgender student in Virginia, who sued when he wasn't allowed to use the men's facilities at his high school.
Even though Grimm's use of the boys' room in his school prompted no complaints from his peers, the Gloucester County School Board enacted a policy requiring him to use a single-stall bathroom instead. With help from the ACLU, Grimm filed suit, only to see a district court side with the school board.
The appeals court reaffirmed that Title IX — part of 1972's Education Amendments that bans sex discrimination in public education — protects the rights of transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that apply to their gender identity. The Department of Education announced in 2014 that Title IX protections extend to transgender students and their use of facilities.
With their ruling, the court has struck down part of North Carolina's House Bill 2, which mandated transgender people must use restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate.
"Today’s historic decision is not only a victory for Gavin, but for all transgender young people who are being targeted by discriminatory actions — including North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s anti-transgender HB2 law,” Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement. "This ruling not only gives appropriate deference to the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX as allowing transgender students to use school restrooms consistent with their gender identity, it also is binding on the state of North Carolina. We therefore expect public schools, including those in North Carolina, to immediately comply, ensuring transgender students full protections under the law, which includes full access to the appropriate facilities."
Warbelow warned that legislation similar to HB 2 — which is being proposed in several states, including South Carolina — still mandates specific restroom use for transgender people in other government-owned facilities besides schools and universities. HB 2 also struck down LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinances in the state and makes it impossible for people to sue under state nondiscrimination law.
Even before Tuesday's ruling, states were concerned about anti-trans legislation that would place them in violation of Title IX. Tennessee governor Bill Haslam withdrew discriminatory legislation on Monday, partly over fears the state would lose federal funding if they were found in violation of Title IX.