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Judge: School District Violated Trans Student Gavin Grimm's Rights

Gavin Grimm

The Gloucester County, Va., School Board was wrong to deny Grimm use of the boys' restroom, a federal judge ruled.

The Gloucester County, Va., School Board violated transgender student Gavin Grimm's constitutional rights by denying him use of the boys' restroom while in high school, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The board violated Grimm's equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as his right to be free of sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law, Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled. She also ordered the school district to update the high school transcripts for Grimm, who graduated in 2017, to reflect his male gender and provide copies to him within 10 days.

The ruling is the latest chapter in a long legal saga that at one point appeared ready to go to the Supreme Court and perhaps still could. In 2014, at the beginning of his sophomore year, Grimm and his mother informed school administrators that the student, who was assigned female at birth, would express his male gender identity in all aspects of his life. Administrators agreed he could use the boys' restroom at Gloucester High School, and he did so for two months without incident.

But in December of that year, the board adopted a policy forcing him to use a single-stall restroom, something he found stigmatizing and inconvenient to the point that he avoided consuming liquids during the school day. He filed suit in 2015 with representation by the American Civil Liberties Union and its Virginia affiliate.

Another judge in the Eastern District sided with the school board in a 2015 ruling, but the following year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned that decision, ruling that under Title IX and the Obama administration's guidance on its application, Grimm had suffered unlawful discrimination. The Obama administration had held that discrimination based on gender identity was a form of sex discrimination, and it issued guidelines saying schools should allow transgender students access to restrooms and changing rooms consistent with their gender identity.

The Supreme Court was set to hear the school board's appeal in 2017 but decided not to after the Trump administration revoked the Obama-era guidelines and adopted a more narrow interpretation of Title IX. It vacated the appeals court ruling and sent the case back to the district court for consideration in the absence of the guidance, meaning it had to be decided based only on the constitutional issues and Title IX, which courts are still free to interpret as they see fit.

Wright Allen last year denied the school district's motion to dismiss the case, and Friday she granted Grimm's motion for summary judgment, the legal term for a ruling that comes without a full trial but with consideration of the facts of the case. "This is a ruling that doesn't just take our word for it," ACLU attorney Joshua Block told The Advocate.

It's unknown so far if the school district will appeal the ruling. The Advocate has requested comment but has not yet received a response. Virginia media outlets said the district is expected to appeal.

Grimm and his attorneys welcomed the ruling, which holds that the school district violated Grimm's rights from the time it adopted the restrictive policy until his graduation.

"It is such a relief to achieve this closure and vindication from the court after four years of fighting not just for myself, but for trans youth across America," Grimm said in an ACLU press release. "I promise to continue to advocate for as long as it takes for everyone to be able to live their authentic lives freely, in public, and without harassment and discrimination."

The Human Rights Campaign also praised the ruling. "Every student should feel safe at school, regardless of gender identity. Transgender students are covered by Title IX and the United States Constitution and are entitled to the same rights and protections as every other student," said Cathryn Oakley, HRC state legislative director and senior counsel, in a press release. "With the Trump-Pence administration's barrage of attacks on LGBTQ people in this country, including against students, we are pleased that yet another federal court decision has reaffirmed legal rights and dignity of transgender people. Congratulations to Gavin Grimm and the American Civil Liberties Union on this milestone victory."

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