In a ruling by a federal judge on Friday that is a setback for transgender students’ civil rights in K-12 schools, a trans high-schooler in Virginia won’t be allowed to use the boys bathroom that he’d already been using for months.
Judge Robert G. Doumar of the U. S. Eastern District rejected the request for immediate injunctive relief of Gavin Grimm, a 16-year old transgender boy who wanted to keep using the boy’s bathroom during the rest of this school year at Gloucester County High School in Virginia.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Virginia sued the Gloucester County School Board in federal court, alleging that it violated Grimm’s civil rights by enacting a transphobic restroom policy that forbade Grimm from continuing to use the boy’s bathroom, as The Advocate reported.
Grimm had used the boy’s bathroom during the 10th grade for several months with the permission of the principal of Gloucester County High School and without incident from his peers. But the Gloucester County School Board nonetheless created a policy that denied Grimm gender-appropriate restroom access. The school board enacted the policy based on select parents’ concerns about privacy, even though Grimm’s peers expressed no such complaints, said Grimm’s father.
The school board adopted the new policy on December 9, 2014, by a vote of 6-1 against the objections of the ACLU of Virginia, which warned that parents’ worries about privacy do not give schools the right to bar transgender students from using the restroom that reflects their gender identity. The ACLU insists that students like Grimm are protected from discrimination based on gender identity by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments.
“Under Title IX, discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, a person’s transgender status, or a person’s nonconformity to sex stereotypes constitutes discrimination based on sex. The term ‘sex’ as it is used in Title IX is broad and encompasses gender identity, including transgender status,” maintained the Department of Justice in a court filing that supported the ACLU’s suit against the Gloucester County School Board.
But, despite the DOJ’s support, Judge Doumar, a Ronald Reagan-appointee, ruled in July that the school board’s policy does not violate Title IX. The judge has not yet ruled on whether the school board’s policy violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
“As a result of the decision, Gavin will have to start the school year under a demeaning and stigmatizing policy that relegates him to separate restrooms from his peers. We expect today’s decision to be reversed on appeal,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s LGBT Project in a news release.
Grimm’s case is part of ongoing battles to protect transgender students from discrimination in K-12 schools. This week Lila Perry gained national attention for resisting school officials at Missouri’s Hillsboro High School who attempted to segregate her to a gender neutral restroom even though she is a transgender girl. In 2013, officials with the Arcadia Unified School District in California settled a suit brought by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of an anonymous transgender male student who was subjected to harassment after disclosing his male identity. The Arcadia Unified School District agreed to resolve a complaint filed on the student’s behalf with the DOJ’s Office of Civil Rights by ensuring that the student “will be treated like other male students while attending school in the district,” according to the DOJ’s statement.
While Judge Doumar’s decisions challenge students’ push for equity under Title IX, the settlement in Student v. Arcadia Unified School District remains one of the first clear indications that Title IX protects transgender students from discrimination in schools. Asaf Orr, the lead NCLR attorney in the case against Arcadia, co-wrote the first guide to trans-inclusive K-12 education called “Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools.”