PA’s attorney general joins amicus brief in trans discrimination case

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Shapiro taking part in a TeenTALK session earlier this year.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro and 22 other attorneys general filed an amicus brief in support of a former Gloucester High School student in the case of Gavin Grimm vs. Gloucester County School Board. 

Grimm, who is trans, sued the school board in 2015 for discrimination because he was banned from using male restrooms at his high school. He also wanted the board to update his educational records to correspond with his updated birth certificate that reflects his gender. Grimm’s suit argues the bathroom policy is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment and violates Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools. 

“I swore an oath to protect the rights of all Pennsylvanians — that includes the nearly 44,000 transgender people who call our Commonwealth home,” said Shapiro said. “The school board’s actions in this case were discriminatory, unlawful, and an abhorrent way to treat a person, especially a young trans student. Transgender individuals have the right to basic human rights, and it’s my job to protect those rights.”

After years of legal battles and denied injunctions that asked his case be heard before his high school graduation, Virginia’s federal district court ruled in Grimm’s favor in August 2019. It found the school board violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against Grimm on the basis of sex.

After Grimm’s victory, the Gloucester County School Board appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, filing a Brief of Appellate on Oct. 22. On Nov. 18, the ACLU, Grimm’s legal representation, filed a Brief of Plaintiff-Appellee. Since, several nonprofits and advocacy groups have filed amicus briefs in support of Grimm, including The Trevor Project, NAACP and Trans Youth Equality Foundation. 

In 2015, the U.S. Transgender Survey found 77 percent of trans students kindergarten through grade 12 were verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly than others, or physically or sexually assaulted because people thought they were transgender. Seventeen percent of respondents faced such severe mistreatment they left their school.

Earlier this year, Shapiro took part in TeenTALK sessions that spearheaded a report that indicated 59 percent of LGBTQ students in Pennsylvania said they were bullied or harassed because of their gender expression.

Under the Trump administration, trans folks have seen a rollback in rights, including a trans military ban. The Department of Health and Human Services canceled a plan to explicitly prohibit hospitals from discriminating against LGBTQ patients as a requirement of Medicare and Medicaid funds and issued a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that federal law “does not prohibit discrimination against transgender persons based on their transgender status.”

“This administration is clearly hostile to the rights of transgender individuals,”  Shapiro said. “When you have the president of the United States saying that it’s OK to discriminate against trans people, and when his administration actively seeks to foster that discrimination, it’s devastating.”

The coalition of attorneys general who signed the amicus brief— led by New York Attorney General Letitia James and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson — argue transgender individuals have the right “to live with dignity, be free from discrimination, and have equal access to education, employment, housing, public accommodations, and other necessities of life.”

Shapiro said, “Not allowing transgender people to use the bathroom associated with their gender identity singles them out. It forces them to either forgo using the bathroom entirely (which is a health risk) or to choose between two detrimental and demeaning options: use the restroom corresponding to their sex assigned at birth or use single-use restrooms.”

He added the first option is a betrayal of their identity that puts them at further risk of harassment and violence and violates medical treatment protocols. The second option, he said, may have stigmatizing effects and could lead to “outing.” 

The group’s brief also highlights how gender-inclusive facilities promote safe and inclusive communities, workplaces and schools, while benefitting people without harming personal privacy or safety interests or incurring substantial costs.

The brief notes the school board’s restroom policy preventing transgender people from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity and its refusal to update Grimm’s school records do nothing to further legitimate governmental interests and only serve to stigmatize transgender students in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

Nearly 1.5 million people in the United States — including approximately 150,000 teenagers — identify as transgender.

Shapiro joins the Attorneys General of New York, Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia in filing the brief.

“When you have this many chief law enforcement officers from across the country standing together, it’s a clear statement that this type of discrimination is unconstitutional, and that we won’t stand for it in our states,”  Shapiro said. “I’m proud to be a part of a community of attorneys general who never hesitate to stand up for the rights of all of our residents.”