Feds Take On Transgender Bathroom Fight

For the first time, a federal district court heard arguments from a transgender teen banned from using the men's bathroom at his high school

A gender-neutral bathroom in California — REUTERS
Jan 27, 2016 at 5:33 PM ET

Gavin Grimm, a 16-year-old transgender teen from Richmond, Virginia, fought in federal court Wednesday for his right to use the men’s bathroom at his high school. Grimm, along with the ACLU, is suing the school board of Gloucester County—marking the first time in history a federal appeals court is hearing a case on transgender students’ rights to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

The right to use the bathroom that corresponds with a person’s gender identity has become a flashpoint in the fight for transgender equality. States from Florida to Indiana have fought over bills that protect or block that right. And, according to Joshua Block, the senior staff attorney at the ACLU who’s representing Grimm, the fight has serious ramifications. Banning kids from using the bathroom they feel corresponds to their gender identity “increases transgender kids’ risks of long-term health repercussions,” Block told Vocativ by phone. “Not only is it inherently stigmatizing and demeaning for anyone, it also has serious medical consequences,” he said.

Grimm, the Virginia student, came out as transgender when he was 15. At first, his high school told him he could use the men’s bathroom, but complaints from parents of other kids at the school led to him having to use either the women’s or unisex bathrooms. He told MSNBC it’s incredibly uncomfortable for him to use those bathrooms—so uncomfortable that he’s become an expert at holding it when he had to go.

“Ever since this battle with the school board began more than a year ago, I’ve been forced to confront ridicule and public insult from people who refuse to see me as a human, male student worthy of respect and equal treatment,” Grimm said. “But in spite of the humiliation I feel every time I’m forced to use the bathroom, I will continue to stand up for myself and other transgender students who shouldn’t be treated differently simply because of who they are.”

If Grimm wins, it could mean transgender kids all over the country will have grounds to challenge discrimination at school, under Title IX, a provision in a 1972 law that prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded schools. The ACLU argued the school is segregating transgender students by forcing them to use “alternative, private” bathrooms, and that segregation is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, according to a press statement from the group.

President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice have both publicly backed Grimm. The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia brought the case against Gloucester County School Board in June 2015. Since the case was brought, the DoJ ruled under Title IX, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathrooms they feel correspond to their gender identities. Despite the backing of the DoJ, Grimm lost in district court, and the ACLU filed an appeal with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

Grimm’s case prompted six states to file an amicus brief against transgender teens accessing the bathroom they choose, Talking Points Memo reported. The brief filed by South Carolina, West Virginia, Arizona, Mississippi and the governors of Maine and North Carolina argued it shouldn’t be considered discrimination to ban Grimm from the men’s bathroom because he is “biologically of the female sex.” Grimm would be violating the privacy of the men in the men’s bathroom who “would be forced to perform intimate bodily functions in the presence and possibly view of a biological female,” it said.

Block said arguments like the one in the amicus briefing “basically wish away the existence of transgender people without acknowledging reality.”