Gavin Grimm seeks ruling in bathroom bill case


Gavin Grimm is 20 now, but he has been fighting ongoing high school bathroom restrictions on trans students in Virginia.

Grimm returned to Norfolk Federal Court for a summary hearing on July 23, four years after he first petitioned the courts over using the boys bathroom in 2015, when he was a high school sophomore who had recently transitioned. He was banned from using the boys bathrooms post-transition. Grimm graduated in 2017.

Grimm is suing the Gloucester County School Board, claiming he was discriminated against by Gloucester High School. He has requested a summary judgement, which means the judge will decide the case.

At issue is whether the school board’s bathroom policy discriminates against trans students.

“It is a shame that I have to stand here and defend my basic humanity and the rights that I’m afforded as a result of being me,” said Grimm in a press conference shortly after the summary hearing.

In court, Grimm repeated the argument he has made over four years: that using a single stall bathroom was humiliating. Grimm’s school and their attorneys argued that bathrooms are assigned based on genitalia and that, without gender-affirming surgery, Grimm was female. The school has consistently, like other school districts, argued that this is to protect the privacy of cis or non-trans people.

In court, attorney David Corrigan, arguing for the school board, asserted that “gender is not a societal construct,” and “it doesn’t matter that Grimm underwent chest reconstruction surgery and hormone therapy.” The Gloucester County School Board still considers Grimm a woman.

Grimm addressed this at his press conference, saying, “Trans people have such a higher standard when it comes to being accepted for who they are and often times certain surgical measures are required. Unfortunately in and of themselves they’re discriminatory because not all trans people have access to those resources.”

There was no ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen on July 23. According to ACLU Senior Attorney Josh Block, who is handling Grimm’s case, the ruling could take several weeks, or even months. Also, the ruling will be specific only to Grimm and not set any precedents.

“The actual ruling will just apply to Gavin, but I think other schools will look to the decision as precedent,” said Block. “If Grimm doesn’t win the case, Block says he will appeal. That would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not ruled favorably in LGBTQ cases in the past few years and has both refused to hear cases of LGBTQ discrimination and punted those cases back to lower courts for review.

Grimm and the American Civil Liberties Union say the school board violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause as well as under Title IX, the federal policy that protects against gender-based discrimination. The school board asserts it is protecting students’ privacy and thus has not discriminated against anyone.

According to Harper Jean Tobin, policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, who has spoken about this issue repeatedly, the bathroom issue is very much related to individual schools, principals and even other students. “Because so many rulings have been individual and not binding to other school districts or states, there is a wide range of access for trans students,” Tobin told the AP. “Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times for transgender students really can depend on where you live and who your principal is.”

Grimm’s mother had notified the school of Grimm’s transition when he returned to classes at the start of his sophomore year. He was using the boys’ restroom until there were complaints from parents. After that, students were informed that their use of shared restrooms and locker rooms “shall be limited to the corresponding biological genders.”

When Grimm first filed suit in 2015, a federal judge ruled for the school board. On appeal, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Grimm’s favor, citing an Obama Administration order that stated students can choose bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

That Obama-era directive was rescinded by the Trump Administration’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos in 2017.

The same day as Grimm’s hearing, a federal court ruled against North Carolina’s H.B. 142 law, which prohibited transgender people from using restrooms that matched their gender identity.

Tara Borelli, Lambda Legal Defense counsel in the lawsuit, explained why such rulings are critical to transgender personhood and autonomy: “Using facilities that match one’s gender identity is a basic necessity for full participation in society, and this order’s confirmation that transgender people can do so is an important victory.”

Borelli added, “Being able to safely navigate everyday life when you set foot outside your home is not a luxury. It is a basic foundation for being treated and accepted as co-equal members of society, like everyone else.”  

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.