Federal Appeals Court Sides With Trans Student In Bathroom Discrimination Case

A federal appeals court has sided with a transgender Virginia high school student who filed a lawsuit against his local school board after they banned him from the boys’ bathroom.

The 2-1 decision from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a district court judge’s ruling issued last year.

Gavin Grimm, now a high school junior in Gloucester County, Va., can now proceed with his lawsuit against the school board.

The Washington Post adds:

In backing high school junior Gavin Grimm, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit deferred to the U.S. Education Department’s interpretation of policies that give transgender students access to the bathrooms that match their gender identities rather than their biological sex. The federal department has said that denying transgender students access to the school bathrooms of their choice is a violation of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.

“It’s a complete vindication for the education department’s interpretation of Title IX,” said Joshua Block, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who represents Grimm.

This ruling can have a more immediate impact on North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law, as Politico notes:

Because the 4th Circuit includes North Carolina, the ruling could have an impact on that state’s recently passed law banning local ordinances guaranteeing bathroom access sought by transgender individuals. The Obama administration has said it is considering taking away funding for schools and other entities in the state that discriminate against transgender people. The new ruling could bolster the administration’s legal case for taking such steps.

The appeals court decision stopped short of declaring that transgender students at federally-supported schools have the right to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. However, the two-judge majority took a step in that direction by saying the lower court judge should have deferred to an Obama administration policy that interprets Education Department regulations to require schools to make such an accommodation.

“The regulation is silent as to which restroom transgender individuals are to use when a school elects to provide sex-segregated restrooms, and the Department’s interpretation, although perhaps not the intuitive one, is permitted by the varying physical, psychological, and social aspects—or, in the words of an older dictionary, ‘the morphological, physiological, and behavioral peculiarities’—included in the term ‘sex,'” Judge Henry Floyd wrote in an opinion joined by Senior Judge Andre Davis.

“The majority’s opinion, for the first time ever, holds that a public high school may not provide separate restrooms and locker rooms on the basis of biological sex….This holding completely tramples on all universally accepted protections of privacy and safety that are based on the anatomical differences between the sexes,” Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in his dissent. “This unprecedented holding overrules custom, culture, and the very demands inherent in human nature for privacy and safety, which the separation of such facilities is designed to protect.”

The majority noted that their ruling did not extend to locker room access, writing: “Only restroom use is at issue in this case.”