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Why Gavin Grimm May Be Back in Court

Gavin Grimm
Gavin Grimm photo by Scout Tufankjian/ACLU

The Gloucester County School Board is appealing a ruling that found restrictive policies like the one it subjected Gavin Grimm to were unconstitutional.

The Gloucester County School Board in Virginia is once again asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case involving restroom access for transgender students.

The school board Friday petitioned the high court to take up the case; the justices' decision on whether to do so likely won't come for weeks or months.

The petition comes in the case of Gavin Grimm, a trans youth who attended high school in Gloucester County and has now graduated. He sued the school district in 2015 after being denied access to the boys' restrooms, even though he had used them without incident for two months. He was instead required to use an inconvenient single-stall restroom, which he avoided to the detriment of his health.

Grimm lost at the trial court level but won at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which ruled in 2016 that the district had violated his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 -- a federal law banning sex discrimination in education -- and the guidelines that President Barack Obama's administration released on its application, advising schools to let trans students use the restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

The district appealed to the Supreme Court then, and the justices accepted the case but changed their minds in 2017, after Donald Trump's administration revoked the Obama-era guidelines. They sent it back to the lower courts for reconsideration, and Grimm won at both the trial and appeals court levels, with the Fourth Circuit ruling last August that the school district's policy violated both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The school board's petition to the Supreme Court contends that the Fourth Circuit was wrong because it "mandates only one answer to the difficult question of how a school should respond to transgender students seeking to be treated consistent with their gender identities, while accommodating the compelling bodily privacy interests of their cisgender classmates." The board asserts that both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause "permit school boards to reach different answers to that question."

Grimm disagrees, as do his attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union and its Virginia affiliate. "I graduated four years ago -- it is upsetting and disappointing that Gloucester County continues to deny who I am," Grimm said in an ACLU press release. "Trans students in Gloucester County schools today should have the respect and dignity that I was denied. Whether it's using the right restroom or having transcripts that reflect who we are, we all deserve to go to a school that's free of harassment and discrimination."

"It is disappointing that after six years of litigation, the Gloucester County School Board is still digging in its heels," said Josh Block, senior staff attorney for the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. "Federal law is clear: Transgender students are protected from discrimination. Gloucester County schools are no exception."

"No student deserves the kind of treatment Gavin endured while he was in high school," added Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia. "Courts have ruled time and again that transgender students must be protected from discrimination, yet Gloucester County schools continue to deny basic respect and dignity for its students. Over the last six years, Gavin's case has inspired many people to advocate for inclusive policies in their communities, and we're proud to continue working with him toward equal rights for all trans students."

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