by Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director
On Monday, we had our first court appearance in our lawsuit on behalf of Gavin Grimm, the Gloucester County teenager who has been barred from using the boy’s restroom at school. Here is a recap of the history of this landmark case, what happened in court on Monday, and what comes next.
What is this case about?
This case is about ensuring that public schools afford dignity and respect to their transgender students. This includes treating transgender students in accord with their gender identity in all respects.
What are the facts of the case?
In the summer of 2014, before Gavin started his sophomore year, he notified administrators at Gloucester High School that he is a transgender boy with a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria, and that his treatment requires him to live as a boy in all aspects of his life. School officials responded appropriately: they changed his records to reflect his new legal name, made sure that his teachers understand that he is a boy and should be referred to using male pronouns, and made it clear to Gavin that they would support him and would not tolerate bullying or discrimination.
When he started the school year, Gavin was not sure what to expect from other students, so he decided to use faculty restrooms or the restroom in the nurse’s office. He soon found that most of his peers were accepting of his gender identity. He felt that it would be safe for him to use the boys’ restrooms like any other boy in the school, and school administrators agreed. He used the boys’ restroom for about seven weeks without incident.
Unfortunately, some parents did not respond to the situation as maturely as their kids did. They demanded that the school board keep Gavin out of the boys’ restrooms. In two successive school board meetings, a parade of speakers demonstrated misperceptions about what it means to be transgender and made demeaning remarks about Gavin. Fifteen-year-old Gavin was subjected to the embarrassment of public discussion of his genitals and bathroom habits, not to mention unimaginably nasty online comments.
At the second meeting, in December 2014, the school board adopted a policy limiting boys’ and girls’ restrooms to students of the corresponding “biological gender,” and providing that students with “gender identity issues” could use separate unisex bathrooms that were rapidly constructed at Gloucester High School.
As a result of the policy, Gavin has not been allowed to use the boys’ restroom at school. He cannot use the girls’ restroom, because he is a boy. And using a separate restroom is stigmatizing and embarrassing. Since the policy has passed, he has tried not to use the restroom at school at all.
What has happened in the case so far?
In December 2014, we filed a complaint on Gavin’s behalf with the U.S. Department of Justice, which opened an investigation in the case. After it appeared that the investigation would not be resolved before school opens again this fall, and similar issues began arising in other Virginia school divisions, we filed our lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Norfolk. The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case, which supported our argument that federal law requires the school to allow Gavin to use the restroom corresponding to his gender identity.
What was the June 27 hearing about?
The hearing on June 27, 2015 was for the judge to consider two motions:
First, the judge heard arguments on the school board’s request to dismiss the case. The school board argued that neither Title IX (the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in public schools) nor the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires it to allow Gavin to use the boys’ restroom, so the case should be thrown out.
Second, the judge heard arguments on our request for a preliminary injunction. We argued that banning Gavin from the boys’ restroom was causing him serious harm, so the school should be required to allow him to use the correct bathroom while the lawsuit proceeds.
What was the result of the June 27 hearing?
At the hearing, the judge dismissed Gavin’s claim under Title IX but indicated that he would probably allow the case to proceed under the constitutional argument. The judge said he would consider our request for a preliminary injunction, and would issue a written opinion on it.
We are waiting for the judge’s opinion, which we hope will be issued soon. After that, we will work with Gavin to determine our next steps. Stay tuned!
Click to listen to the Civil Liberties Minute, produced by the ACLU of Massachusetts, on Gavin's story:
The battle over bathrooms
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