Supreme Court affirms transgender rights in declining to hear Virginia school bathroom case

By: - June 28, 2021 2:36 pm

U.S. Supreme Court, Dec. 2, 2019. Credit: Robin Bravender

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it will not hear a case of a transgender student in Virginia who was barred from using the boys’ bathroom, a decision that affirms lower-court rulings that said treating transgender students differently violates federal law.

Gavin Grimm, wearing a trans pride flag cape and a T-shirt reading “No Body Is Illegal,” speaks on stage at the 2018 Trans March San Francisco. Credit: Wikipedia.

Justices on the top court offered no comment in declining to take up the case of Gavin Grimm, who was required to use alternative bathroom facilities while a student at Virginia’s Gloucester High School in 2014.

With help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Grimm, who is now an adult, sued the school board. The Supreme Court was expected to review the case in 2017, but sent it back for reconsideration after the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students’ rights.

Since then, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit have both ruled in favor of Grimm, whose case has drawn national attention.

“I have nothing more to say but thank you, thank you, thank you,” Grimm said in a Twitter post, speaking to those who supported him and aided in the case. “Honored to have been part of this victory.”

The ruling comes at a time when a growing number of GOP-led states are passing legislation to restrict transgender athletes and otherwise limit legal protections for transgender individuals.

Two conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said they would have heard the case.

Transgender rights advocates argue that bathroom policies that single out transgender youth violate federal and constitutional law and say such policies harm them, not cisgender students.

Grimm was using the boys’ restroom as a student at Gloucester High School until 2014, when the Gloucester County School Board adopted a policy requiring him to use alternative facilities after receiving complaints from some parents and residents, according to the Virginia Mercury.

In a statement released by the ACLU after Monday’s ruling, Grimm said being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom, and the girls’ room was “humiliating,” adding that having to use out-of-the-way bathrooms also “severely interfered with my education.”

“Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials,” he said.

His counsel, Josh Block, who serves as senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project, said that while the Supreme Court has allowed several appeals court decisions in support of transgender students to stand in recent years, “our work is not yet done.”

“The ACLU is continuing to fight against anti-trans laws targeting trans youth in states around the country,” Block said.

Amid the series of new state laws restricting transgender rights, the Biden administration has sought to expand legal protections for LGBTQ Americans.

The Department of Education recently expanded its interpretation of federal sex protections to include transgender and gay students, reversing a Trump-era policy. The Department of Health and Human Services also has prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by health care providers that receive federal money.

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Florida Phoenix. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.

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