Gavin Grimm Stood Up for Himself. Now We’re Standing With Him.

I will be standing up in court this morning on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a 16-year-old boy who just completed his sophomore year at Gloucester High School. Gavin is transgender and has a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. This means that even though he was assigned the sex of female at birth, he is a boy and lives in accordance with his male gender identity in all aspects of his life. He has had a legal name change and is identified as male on his driver’s license. With the permission of the high school principal Gavin used the boys’ restroom for almost two months without any problems.

But all that changed when some parents began complaining to the Gloucester County School Board about a “girl” in the boys’ room. During two public school board meetings, residents of Gloucester County — including people who did not even have school-age children — threatened to vote the board out of office if they did not pass a new policy to kick Gavin out of the boys’ restroom. Gavin and his parents sat at the school board meeting while strangers pointedly referred to him as “a young lady” to deliberately undermine his gender identity and warned about sexual predators.

One speaker called Gavin a “freak” and compared him to a person who thinks he is a dog and wants to urinate on fire hydrants. “All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace,” Gavin told a room full of grown adults. “This could be your child. I’m just a human. I’m just a boy.”  

The school board caved, voting 6-1 to pass a new policy that limits access to the communal restroom based on “biological gender” and relegates students with “gender identity issues” to “alternative” restroom facilities. As a result, Gavin has been effectively banished to an alternative bathroom and conversations about his body and his personal medical information have been held in public in front of his classmates and the larger community.

Gavin’s case is reaching the courts at a critical time. 

While we continue to push for explicit protections in our federal civil rights statutes, it is now widely recognized by courts that discriminating against transgender people for their gender nonconformity already violates protections against sex discrimination in the Constitution and our civil rights laws. And in order to equally participate in school, work, and society, transgender people — like everyone else — have to use the restrooms. 

Today the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Education have all said that transgender people should be able to use the restrooms that correspond to their gender identity and cannot be segregated into separate restrooms away from everyone else.

But there has been pushback too.  

Last year we saw a wave of legislative attempts to prohibit transgender people from using the same restrooms as everyone else. Some bills even threatened to put a bounty on the heads of transgender people by offering rewards to anyone who reports that a transgender person is using the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. And people who oppose legal protections for transgender people are hoping that the policies adopted by federal agencies are rejected by the federal courts.

This is a civil rights issue and Gavin deserves our support.

That’s why the ACLU is in court today — to stand up for Gavin and for the rights of transgender people to participate equally and fully at school, at work, and in society. I hope you will join me in standing with Gavin.

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