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Schools can't discriminate against trans students regarding bathrooms, rules Appeals court

Trans activist Gavin Grimm filed a lawsuit against his school board in 2015 when he was banned from using the right bathroom. Five years later, he has finally won.

Schools can't discriminate against trans students regarding bathrooms, rules Appeals court
Gay rights advocate Gavin Grimm attends the GLAAD Rising Stars Luncheon on May 5, 2017 in New York City.

Content Warning: This report contains themes of transphobia, body dysmorphia, and LGBTQ+ suicide

A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, ruled on Wednesday that schools cannot prohibit students from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, The Washington Post reports. The ruling comes after a lengthy legal battle between trans activist (and former student) Gavin Grimm and the Gloucester County School Board. The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the school board was in violation of Grimm's constitutional rights when it banned him from using the boys' bathroom. The decision, made by a three-judge panel in a two to one victory, is a major step forward for transgender rights advocates across the country.



In the ruling, the majority opinion noted that Grimm was forced to use "special bathrooms that might as well have said ‘Gavin’ on the sign." "Grimm was treated worse than students with whom he was similarly situated because he alone could not use the restroom corresponding with his gender," it read. "Unlike the other boys, he had to use either the girls' restroom or a single-stall option." According to the school board, the trans activist was forced to use the single-stall option or the girls' restroom as he had not undergone gender affirmation surgery, labeling him "anatomically female." They argued thus that laws protect against discrimination based on sex, not gender identity.



This is a transphobic argument used to invalidate the gender identities of trans folks everywhere. Thankfully, the appeals court recognized this. David Corrigan, an attorney for the school board, claimed that they were reviewing the ruling but declined to comment further. Meanwhile, Grimm stated that the court's decision was "an incredible affirmation for not just me, but for trans youth around the country." He affirmed, "All transgender students should have what I was denied: the opportunity to be seen for who we are by our schools and our government." This case has the potential to have far-reaching effects beyond Virginia.



Paul D. Castillo, an attorney for the LGBTQIA+ rights group Lambda Legal, said that the ruling applies to all five states in the 4th Circuit’s region: Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. However, many believe that it could go even further, all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Similar decisions have been made by other federal appeals courts, such as in the 11th Circuit regarding a student in Florida (this ruling would apply to the states of Georgia and Alabama as well). In order for the case of transgender rights to head to the Supreme Court, there would have to be a split decision between circuit courts, which is yet to occur.



"The point is that transgender students across the country who are enrolled in schools with affirming policies have had no problems with respect to many of the concerns that are raised," Castillo explained. "In fact, it improves diversity and school climates when you embrace all students." Though the journey to the Supreme Court is still unclear, the federal appeal court's ruling offered a comprehensive look at some of the challenges that transgender students face, such as widespread harassment and major mental health disparities. Grimm, who filed the lawsuit in 2015 after suffering from urinary tract infections from avoiding school bathrooms in addition to suicidal ideation that led to hospitalization, graduated in 2017. Now 21, he lives in California and is a trans rights activist.


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