A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a transgender student who sued his Virginia school district over its policy that bars him from using the boys restroom or locker room.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond issued its ruling in the case that Gavin Grimm brought against the Gloucester County School Board over its policy.
The Gloucester County High School student alleges the regulation violates Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits schools from receiving funds from discriminating on the basis of sex. Grimm also claims the policy is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
The 4th Circuit in January heard oral arguments in Grimm’s case. It was the first time a federal appeals court considered the question of whether Title IX allows trans students to use facilities that are consistent with their gender identity.
“I feel so relieved and vindicated by the court’s ruling.” said Grimm in a press release the American Civil Liberties Union released after the 4th Circuit announced its decision. “Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school.”
The Justice Department argued in the Grimm case that Title IX requires school districts to allow trans students to use restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. The Department of Education’s Office of the General Council also filed a brief in support of the trans student.
“Today’s Fourth Circuit decision is a vindication for Gavin and a reinforcement of the Department of Education’s policy.” said Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project, in a press release. “With this decision, we hope that schools and legislators will finally get the message that excluding transgender kids from the restrooms is unlawful sex discrimination.”
FCPS Pride, a group that represents LGBT employees of the Fairfax County School District, in a statement said its members “are heartened by the” 4th Circuit’s ruling. The Northern Virginia Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network noted it “strongly supports” the decision.
“This case comes down to the simple principle that transgender students, like all students, should have the opportunity to go to school, get an education, and be treated fairly,” said Transgender Law Center Executive Director Kris Hayashi in a press release that Lambda Legal released. “Today’s ruling sets a legal precedent confirming what the federal government has made clear again and again: Schools cannot ban students from using the restroom that matches the gender they live as every day.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar last July said the Gloucester County School District’s policy does not violate Title IX. He later rejected Grimm’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed him to use the boys restroom and locker room at Gloucester County High School as his case proceeds through the courts.
The 4th Circuit in its decision orders the lower court to rule on the injunction.
“The court today opined that the case should go back to the lower court for that judge to determine which definition of sex should be enforced in our schools, the one found in an advisory letter from the Obama administration, or the one used by the Gloucester school board that’s based on actual science and reality,” said Family Foundation of Virginia President Victoria Cobb in a statement.
“A society cannot function properly without basic, social norms like male and female,” she added. “The social chaos that would ensue from ignoring biological reality will inevitably bring tremendous harm to our children and limit freedom, not expand it.”
Lawmakers across the country debating ‘papers to pee’ bills
The 4th Circuit decision comes against the backdrop of a national debate over trans people’s ability to access restrooms and other public facilities that are consistent with their gender identity.
The sponsor of Tennessee’s so-called “papers to pee” bill withdrew it earlier this week amid concerns that the state could lose federal funding. The South Dakota House of Representatives last month failed to override Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s veto of a measure that would have prohibited trans students from using restrooms in public schools that are consistent with their gender identity.
A North Carolina law prohibiting trans people from using public restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity has sparked widespread outrage across the country.
The 4th Circuit encompasses the Tarheel State along with Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina and West Virginia.