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A Court Ruling in Gavin Grimm’s Case Is a Very Big Deal

Gavin Grimm at New York Pride 2017
Gavin Grimm at New York Pride 2017
Joshua Block,
Senior Staff Attorney,
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May 23, 2018

Yesterday another federal court said what we’ve been arguing all along: Federal law protects transgender people.

For the past four years, Gavin Grimm has been seeking justice. For most of his time at Gloucester High School, the district’s school board prohibited him from using the boys’ restroom and forced him to use single-stall facilities that no other student was required to use. They singled him out to be stigmatized and segregated in this way just because he is transgender.

With the ACLU’s help, Gavin sued his school district for violating his rights under the constitution and Title IX, a civil rights law protecting students from sex discrimination. Gavin’s case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2017. But then in February 2017, just one month after Donald Trump took office, the departments of Education and Justice withdrew the Obama-era guidance.

More so, the Solicitor General sent a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to undermine the decisions made by the Fourth Circuit. And it worked. A couple months away from graduation, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back down, asking the lower courts to consider the case without the guidance from the Obama administration.

Over a year later, a federal court has finally vindicated what Gavin has been saying all along. The court held that, even though Secretary of Education Betsy Devos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked guidance protecting trans students, they could not change what the law means. The court, citing a long line of court decisions supporting transgender people, held that Title IX protects Gavin and other transgender students from discrimination. Forcing Gavin to use separate restrooms violated his rights under both Title IX and the Constitution and hopefully soon three other courts will be doing the same.

This is an incredible victory for not just Gavin — one that only adds to the forward momentum we’ve been creating in the courts to recognize that transgender people are already protected under federal law. The court has allowed Gavin’s case to move forward by denying the school’s attempts to dismiss the case. But the decision did more than that. The court challenged the idea that policies based on “biological sex” can be implemented. As U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright put it, “attempting to draw lines based on physiological and anatomical characteristics proves unmanageable.”

Gavin’s victory won’t be able to give him back all the years he spent in Gloucester High School, but Gavin is determined to see his case through to the end so that other students never have to go through the same experience. The Department of Education may no longer be interested in hearing civil rights complaints from transgender students, but the courts are thanks to people like Gavin Grimm.