Despite legal twists and turns — a change in guidance to schools when Donald Trump took over the White House, the Supreme Court refusing to hear the case even after it had become involved — the case of Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender student in Virginia is simply “about a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy.”
That was the assessment of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has been at the center of the case since 2015. Although the court ruled against Grimm last week, largely because the Trump administration turned its back on transgender students and reneged on the U.S. government’s previous commitment to ensuring their equal treatment in American schools, it offered strong support for his cause in an eloquent order written by Senior Judge Andre Davis.
“G.G.’s case is about much more than bathrooms. It’s about a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy. It’s about protecting the rights of transgender people in public spaces and not forcing them to exist on the margins,” Davis wrote.
“It’s about governmental validation of the existence and experiences of transgender people, as well as the simple recognition of their humanity. His case is part of a larger movement that is redefining and broadening the scope of civil and human rights so that they extend to a vulnerable group that has traditionally been unrecognized, unrepresented, and unprotected.”
Grimm, a 17-year-old senior at Gloucester County High School, was born a girl but identifies as a boy. He has been locked in a legal battle with the county school district for years over what bathroom he is allowed to use at school. Maine Gov. Paul LePage signed on to a brief in his personal capacity, not representing the state, arguing that Grimm must use girls’ bathrooms.
The Department of Justice under former President Barack Obama had supported Grimm’s case, and it issued guidance to U.S. schools in May 2016 on how to avoid discrimination against transgender students. But a federal judge in Texas put the guidance on hold after several states challenged it.
In June 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that education non-discrimination laws require that Grimm be allowed to use boys’ bathrooms at the school. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, put that ruling on hold last summer after the school board appealed the case to the high court. With the Trump administration’s about-face on federal policy toward transgender students, the case last month wound up back with the 4th Circuit for reconsideration. In the absence of federal policy supporting the civil rights of transgender students, the court vacated the June 2016 order on Friday.
Despite the encouraging words from the court, Grimm will graduate from high school with his case unresolved. The slow pace and setbacks in the case frustrated the 4th Circuit Court judges.
“G.G.’s lawsuit also has demonstrated that some entities will not protect the rights of others unless compelled to do so,” the order said. “Today, hatred, intolerance, and discrimination persist — and are sometimes even promoted — but by challenging unjust policies rooted in invidious discrimination, G.G. takes his place among other modern-day human rights leaders who strive to ensure that, one day, equality will prevail, and that the core dignity of every one of our brothers and sisters is respected by lawmakers and others who wield power over their lives.”
“Fortunately, the law eventually catches up to the lived facts of people,” the court order predicted. For the sake of Grimm and other students facing daily discrimination — and worse — we hope the court is right.