The Gloucester County School Board v Gavin Grimm will finally have its day in the highest court in 2017, making it the highest profile case regarding transgender rights in the history of the United States.
Here is what has happened to date:
In 2014 the Gloucester County School Board adopted a discriminatory bathroom policy, which forced transgender students to use “alternate” restrooms instead of the ones that corresponded with their gender identity. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the school board on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student, claiming the school district’s policy was discriminatory and that it violated Title IX, which prevents discrimination based on sex in public schools.
In April 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court ruled in favor of Grimm and held that Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use facilities that are in line with their gender identity. One month later the Gloucester County School Board asked the full 4th Circuit — en banc — to reconsider the ruling. The court denied their request.
In June 2016, the Gloucester County School Board petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case while also requesting a stay on the 4th Circuit’s ruling. In August 2016, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to grant a temporary stay after Justice Stephen Breyer joined the Republican Justices as a courtesy so they could take their summer vacation. The move forced Gavin Grim to still use the alternate restrooms until the case could be heard. On Friday, the Supreme Court announced it will hear the case in 2017.
Here is what it all means:
The case will be the first to take on transgender rights in the nation’s highest court. The decision could impact recent laws such as North Carolina’s HB2 while also having bearing on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s crusade against transgender rights, which includes 21 states. Ultimately it will decide if transgender students have rights or not.
Making the issue more difficult is the fact that the Supreme Court is currently down one justice, and they appear to be split on the issue 4-4. While we can hope a new justice will be in place by 2017, no one is able to say for sure. In the event there is a split ruling in the case, the 4th Circuit’s ruling will hold, granting Gavin Grimm the right to use the restroom that corresponds with his gender identity. The problem would be that because the decision is split, it would have no bearing on other cases, leaving the issue of transgender rights up in the air.
By agreeing to take the case, the justices have set aside their cautions regarding taking on new cases due to being down one member. The Grimm case will be one of the few the court will hear due to its national importance. Meanwhile, until the case is heard Gavin Grim will still not be able to use the restroom he choses, as he will most likely be done with High School once it is actually heard.
“I never thought that my restroom use would ever turn into any kind of national debate. The only thing I ever asked for was the right to be treated like everyone else,” Grim said in a statement released on Friday. “While I’m disappointed that I will have to spend my final school year being singled out and treated differently from every other guy, I will do everything I can to make sure that other transgender students don’t have to go through the same experience.”