Education LGBTQ

Supreme Court Sends Transgender Rights Case Back to Lower Court

On Monday the Supreme Court announced that they will no longer hear the case of transgender student Gavin Grimm, sending the case back to the appeal’s court for further consideration in light of the Trump administration’s rescinding of Title IX protections for transgender students.

The ACLU had filed a lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board on behalf of 17-year-old transgender student Gavin Grimm after he was barred from using the boys’ restroom at his Virginia high school, arguing the discriminatory bathroom policy was a violation of Title IX.

The federal district court denied the student’s request for an injunction, but that ruling was reversed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and sent back to the district court for additional consideration. In June, the district court blocked the school board’s policy, at which point the board appealed to the Supreme Court. In August, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to issue a stay on the lower court ruling, prohibiting Grimm from using the boys’ restroom until they could consider the case. In October, the Court announced that they would hear the case at the end of March.

The Court’s decision to no longer hear Grimm’s case comes in the wake of the Trump administration’s February decision to rescind Obama era protections that allowed transgender students to access whichever restroom corresponded with their gender identity as a condition of the education equity guaranteed under Title IX. It is believed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted to act quickly to roll back this protection before Grimm’s pending court case moved forward.

“Nothing about today’s action changes the meaning of the law,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT project. “Title IX and the Constitution protect Gavin and other transgender students from discrimination. While we’re disappointed that the Supreme Court will not be hearing Gavin’s case this term, the overwhelming level of support shown for Gavin and trans students by people across the country throughout this process shows that the American people have already moved in the right direction and that the rights of trans people cannot be ignored. This is a detour, not the end of the road, and we’ll continue to fight for Gavin and other transgender people to ensure that they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

After the Department of Education under Obama released those 2014 guidelines extending Title IX protections to transgender students, many schools struggled to comply in the face of conflicting court guidance and state laws, including North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” that requires people to use the restroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate. When President Obama reminded public schools in May that barring transgender students from restrooms could risk the loss of federal funding, over 20 states filed suit, insisting the administration was overstepping its authority. In August, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary, nationwide injunction blocking the Obama administration from enforcing the guidelines.

The issue of transgender rights in Virginia has been contentious. In January, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed off on an executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity within state services and by state contractors, declaring that the commonwealth would not work with contractors and businesses that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. At the same time, Republican legislator Del. Robert Marshall sought to retract such protections, filing a bill similar to the North Carolina HB2 bill restricting the bathroom use of transgender individuals.

According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, approximately 150,000 teenagers 13 to 17 identify as transgender.

Read the 2016 Title IX Obama Administration Dear Colleague Letter and the Department of Education’s Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students.

Media Resources: New York Times 3/6/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 10/31/17, 2/23/17, 1/6/17; ACLU 3/6/17

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