In a new video featuring ACLU client Gavin Grimm and his mom Deirdre Grimm, the two reflect on Gavin’s fight to be treated with dignity and respect by his school board in Gloucester County, Virginia — a journey that has taken them all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States where his case will be heard on March 28.
Gavin is a 17-year-old boy. But because he is transgender, his school board passed a policy barring him from sharing facilities with the rest of his peers. Rather than use the boys’ restroom that all other boys use, Gavin is forced into a converted utility closet or another, separate, stigmatized space every time he needs to use the restroom during the day.
This decision to segregate and stigmatize Gavin was not the school’s initial reaction to learning he was transgender.
Before the start of his sophomore year, Gavin and his parents informed the school that Gavin is a boy and that, consistent with his medical treatment, needed to be treated as a boy for all purposes, including when using the restroom. The principal and others at Gavin’s school agreed. As educators, they likely recognized the critical importance of showing all kids that their school is on their side and won’t model and authorize bullying of kids who may be seen by their peers as different.
Consistent with the principal’s recommendations, Gavin was fully integrated into the school community and used the boys’ restroom like the rest of his male peers for two months without any issues. As far as Gavin knows, his peers never complained; the faculty never complained; the administrators at the school never complained. Every one treated it like the non-issue it was, and Gavin was accepted and integrated into the school community. For the first time in his life, he felt like he was living as his authentic self.
It wasn’t until adults in the community began to complain to the Gloucester County School Board that his restroom use became the subject of public controversy. With pressure from residents of Gloucester County — some of whom threatened to vote members of the school board out of office if they did not expel Gavin from the boys’ restroom — the Gloucester County School Board passed a policy barring kids with “gender identity issues” from restrooms that matched their gender. This meant that Gavin was banished from the restrooms that his peers used, publicly humiliated before his community, and essentially told he was unfit to be an equal member of his school.
Challenging the board’s policy as a deprivation of his rights to equal educational opportunities under federal law and his constitutional right to equal protection, Gavin filed a lawsuit at the end of his sophomore year. Now in his senior year, Gavin has spent his entire high school career fighting just to be treated like any other boy. He has endured public mockery and rejection. He has listened to adults shame him and his body, compare him to a dog, and call him a freak. And through it all, he has persisted in believing that he is deserving of dignity, humanity, and respect even in the face of opposition to his very existence. Imagine the fortitude and resilience it would take to navigate high school under these conditions. Gavin is a model of bravery and will be remembered as a hero in the fight for justice for trans people.
Now, Gavin’s case has reached the Supreme Court, and the justices are poised to decide the scope of legal protections for Gavin and transgender people across the country.
Though often framed as a “restroom case,” this case is about so much more, and the stakes could not be higher. The court’s decision will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of transgender people across the country.
If transgender people are not protected under the law, if we cannot safely go to restrooms that match who we are, then we cannot have jobs, we cannot go to school, we cannot participate in public life. That is what is at stake.
Reflecting on her son’s case, Gavin’s mom explains:
“I didn’t even know what transgender was when this all started. One of the first things I read was that almost 50 percent of these kids try to commit suicide. As a parent, that is all you really need to know to support your child.”
That’s all any of us should need to know to support kids like Gavin.
This case will affect trans people for generations, and we need to stand together between now and March 28 and show the court that we will not accept rolling back the clock on progress and decency.
We have been here before. In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld criminal bans on sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex in Bowers v. Hardwick. “None of the [constitutional] rights announced in [our precedent] bears any resemblance to … claimed constitutional right of homosexuals to engage in acts of sodomy,” wrote Justice Byron White. “No connection between family, marriage, or procreation on the one hand and homosexual activity on the other has been demonstrated.” The decision was a blow to the dignity, humanity, and, indeed, the very survival of the LGBT community.
In 2013, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Lawrence v. Texas, invalidated the Bowers’ decision. “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today,” he wrote. “It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.”
But for 17 years, that wrongly decided case justified sweeping, legally sanctioned discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. It affected a generation or more of people who struggled to navigate a society that justified the criminalization of the very essence of who we are as people.
Now the court is considering another case that could authorize legally sanctioned discrimination for decades. Opponents of trans people are urging that the rights trans people demand are so far outside of what the law protects — that we are freaks, that we seek special rights, that our bodies are incompatible with society. None of that is true. We seek simply to be protected from discrimination and afforded the same dignity and rights of our peers and colleagues.
We have heard this all before. It was wrong it 1986, and it is wrong today.
Let’s not repeat our mistakes. Let’s #StandWithGavin.