A Virginia high school forbid a transgender youth from using the boys’ restroom–which aligned with his gender identity. By discriminating against this transgender teen, the school sparked a nationwide outcry.
The case of Gavin Grimm has been watched very closely due to the recent legislation passed by North Carolina that banned anti-discrimination ordinances–a reaction to the Charlotte ordinance.
In the Virginia case, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which also covers North Carolina — ruled 2-1 to overturn the Gloucester County School Board’s policy, saying it violated Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination in schools. A federal judge had dismissed Grimm’s sex discrimination claim, but the court said that judge disregarded a U.S. Department of Education regulation that transgender students in public schools must be allowed to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. “We agree that it has indeed been commonplace and widely accepted to separate public restrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities on the basis of sex,” the court wrote in its opinion. “It is not apparent to us, however, that the truth of these propositions undermines the conclusion we reach regarding the level of deference due to the department’s interpretation of its own regulations.”
Maxine Eichner, a University of North Carolina law professor who is an expert on sexual orientation and the law, said the ruling had many underlying technical and ethical issues. “The effects of this decision on North Carolina are clear,” she said, adding that a judge in that state will have no choice but to apply the appeals court’s ruling. Other states in the 4th Circuit are Maryland, West Virginia and South Carolina. These states will be directly affected by the ruling, but Eichner said the impact will be more far-reaching. “It is a long and well-considered opinion that sets out the issues,” she said. “It will be influential in other circuits.”
Appeals court Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, who was appointed to the appeals court by Republican President George H.W. Bush, wrote in a dissenting opinion that the majority’s opinion “completely tramples on all universally accepted protections of privacy and safety that are based on the anatomical differences between the sexes.”
The majority opinion was written by Judge Henry F. Floyd and joined by Judge Andre M. Davis, both appointees of Democratic President Barack Obama. For the past few decades, the federal appeals court has been considered the most conservative out of all courts, but the recent openings have allowed President Obama to adapt it into a more democratic court. Including the two senior judges, the court now has 10 judges appointed by Democrats and seven by Republicans.
Grimm was born female but identifies as male. He was allowed to use the boys’ restrooms at the school for several weeks in 2014. After some parents voiced their complaints, the school adopted a policy that would force transgender youth to go to the bathroom that matches their biological sex. Grimm called the policy “stigmatizing.” School officials said the policy respects the privacy of all students. “I feel so relieved and vindicated by the court’s ruling,” Grimm said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents him. “Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school.” Grimm, 16, said he started refusing to wear girls’ clothes by age 6 and told his parents he was transgender in April 2014.