The Supreme Court on Monday passed on a long-winding legal battle over transgender students’ rights to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Gavin Grimm, a transgender man, sued his school board in 2015 over its policy that barred him from using the boys restroom. Gloucester County School Board in Virginia had implemented a policy that forced Grimm to use unisex restroom facilities.
“I am glad that my years-long fight to have my school see me for who I am is over,” Grimm said in a statement.
“Being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom, and the girl’s room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education,” he added. “Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with Grimm twice, ruling the policy is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The court also said barring students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity violates Title IX, an education law that prohibits sex-based discrimination.
For several years, the case has bounced around the courts through a turbulent political tug of war over the interpretation of Title IX. The court backed Grimm in 2016 and again last August. The Supreme Court was set to hear the case in 2017 but sent it back to the lower courts after the Trump administration scrapped Obama-era guidance on the rights of transgender students.
The Education Department’s new interpretation of Title IX, announced in June, now includes prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The decision was based on the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County. However, the opinion issued about transgender rights in the workplace specifically said it did not address rights to use bathrooms or locker rooms.
This is the second time this term that the Supreme Court has sidelined a lawsuit aimed at barring transgender students from bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. In December, the high court decided not to hear the case aimed at ending an Oregon school district’s policy of allowing transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identity.
The court order said Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito would grant the petition for a writ of certiorari in Grimm’s case. Thomas and Alito dissented in Bostock.
In their dissent, the justices warned that the high court’s decision to interpret sex-based discrimination as encompassing of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity “is virtually certain to have far-reaching consequences.” They pointed to issues surrounding the use of bathrooms, locker rooms and campus housing, and alluded to the brewing battle over transgender athlete’s rights.
The Supreme Court’s decision to leave the lower court’s ruling in place is seen as a major victory for transgender student rights, especially as a number of conservative states pass laws to challenge them.
“This is an incredible victory for Gavin and for transgender students around the country,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Our work is not yet done, and the ACLU is continuing to fight against anti-trans laws targeting trans youth in states around the country.”
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