A federal appeals court sided Wednesday with a transgender student who was prevented from using the boys’ restroom at school, upholding a lower-court ruling against a Virginia school district’s bathroom policy.
In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Gloucester County School Board violated Gavin Grimm’s rights under the Constitution’s equal-protection clause and Title IX in a legal battle that began in 2015.
“At the heart of this appeal is whether equal protection and Title IX can protect transgender students from school bathroom policies that prohibit them from affirming their gender,” said Judge Henry Franklin Floyd, an Obama appointee. “We join a growing consensus of courts in holding that the answer is resoundingly yes.”
The court also ruled against the school district’s decision to change Gavin Grimm’s sex on school transcripts from “female” to male,” despite having an amended birth certificate.
“Unlike students whose gender matches their sex-assigned-at-birth, Grimm is unable to obtain a transcript indicating that he is male,” said Judge Floyd. “The Board’s decision is not substantially related to its important interest in maintaining accurate records because Grimm’s legal gender in the state of Virginia is male, not female.”
Now 21, Gavin Grimm sued the district in 2015 as a sophomore over the board’s decision to offer three single-stall unisex bathrooms instead of allowing transgender students to use “the restroom matching their gender identity,” which left him feeling “stigmatized and isolated,” according to the 95-page decision.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Mr. Grimm, said that “the court once again ruled that Title IX, which also prohibits sex discrimination, applies to transgender students.”
“For the last five years, Gavin has been fighting for transgender students to ensure no one else deals with the discrimination he faced in high school,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia. “The court rightfully stood with him to rule that trans students deserve to go to school with dignity, respect, and equal protection under the law.”
Disagreeing with the majority was Judge Paul Niemeyer, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, accusing the majority opinion of “pursuing the public policy that it deems best” instead of applying the law.
He said the high school’s “classifications for restroom usage—which accord with longstanding and widespread practice—were appropriately justified by the needs of individual privacy, as has been recognized by law.”
“In this instance, the School Board offered its students male and female restrooms, legitimately separating them on the basis of sex,” said Judge Niemeyer. “It also provided safe and private unisex restrooms that Grimm, along with all other students, could use. These offerings fully complied with both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.”
BREAKING: A federal appeals court has again ruled in favor of our client Gavin Grimm, whose high school discriminated against him for being trans.
We will continue to fight until all trans and non-binary people are free to be who we are in school.
— ACLU (@ACLU) August 26, 2020
The Gloucester County School Board “has no comment at this time, and is reviewing the decision,” according to a press statement.
The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017, but was sent back to the lower court for review after the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era rule on transgender bathrooms.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in Mr. Grimm’s favor in August 2019. He graduated from Gloucester High School in 2017.