Gavin Grimm has moved on with his life in the six years since his use of the boys bathroom at Gloucester High School prompted the local school board to rule that school restrooms and locker rooms were reserved for students of the “corresponding biological genders.”
Now that a federal appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling that the board’s policy is an unconstitutional violation of Grimm’s rights, it’s time for the Gloucester County School Board to let this controversy become history as an affirmation of equal rights for transgender Americans.
Grimm, who was born female but identified as male, had told his parents of his desire to make the gender transition official, and during his sophomore year in high school began the process. He’d been using public restrooms for men for some time, and in October 2014, he received permission from his school’s principal to use the boys' bathroom there.
No big deal — or at least it shouldn’t have been. For a couple of weeks, all went well. Grimm’s fellow students didn’t seem to mind.
But some parents in that community minded quite a bit. Changing the gender someone was born with did not fit with their values. Neither did allowing someone who was born a girl into the boys' bathroom. Before long, the school board had voted 6-1 for the policy limiting bathroom use to a student’s biological gender.
In 2015, Grimm and his parents filed suit on grounds that the policy amounted to discrimination under Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 and was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.
As the case moved through the courts, it had the support of the Obama administration’s Justice and Education departments. Their position was that protections against sex-based discrimination included protection against violations made on the basis of gender. Grimm’s case was about to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But when the Trump administration took charge in 2017, the federal agencies no longer supported Grimm’s position, and the high court sent the case back to a lower court for consideration.
Last year in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen, who had earlier denied the school board’s motion to dismiss Grimm’s lawsuit, sided with Grimm again. She ruled that the school board had violated his constitutional rights.
Now a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Wright Allen’s decision. Writing for the 2-1 majority in late August, Judge Henry Floyd said that “the proudest moments of our federal judiciary have been when we affirm the burgeoning values of our bright youth, rather than preserve the prejudices of the past.” He and the other member of the majority compared the Gloucester School Board’s policy to the days of “separate but equal” segregation.
“It is time to move forward,” Floyd said
It is, indeed. The Gloucester County School Board, however, disagrees. Rather than accepting the appeals court decisions, the board’s attorneys have asked the full appeals court to hear the case. Requests for full hearings are granted less than 1% of the time.
So Grimm’s case dealing with his treatment in high school six years ago will drag on. At some point, the full court will likely decline to hear it, and then the school board will decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Grimm continues to speak out for equal rights for transgender people and others who face discrimination. Mostly, though, he has gotten on with life, attending college in California.
American attitudes toward LGBTQ people have been evolving for the better. The issues involved can be difficult, and dealing with them requires awareness and a willingness to strike a balance that does not infringe unduly on the rights of anyone. Letting a person who identifies and lives as one gender use the facilities for that gender does not seem unreasonable.
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