Transgender boy wins bathroom fight as top court spurns case

Greg Stohr

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to question the rights of transgender students to use school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, rejecting an appeal by a Virginia school board in a long-running civil rights battle.

The rebuff seals a legal victory for Gavin Grimm, who was a high school student in 2014 when the Gloucester County School Board barred him from continuing to use the boys’ bathrooms. A federal appeals court said the board violated Grimm’s rights under a federal civil rights law and the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

In this Monday, March 6, 2017, file photo, Gloucester County High School senior Gavin Grimm, a transgender student, speaks during a news conference in Richmond, Va.

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In turning away the appeal, the justices declined to take up a clash they agreed to hear four years ago, before a Trump administration policy change prompted them to cancel the showdown. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said without explanation that they would have take up the appeal.

Three federal appeals courts have now ruled that transgender students have the right to use the bathroom of their choice, and the Biden administration has indicated it will take that position in court cases as well.

“I am glad that my years-long fight to have my school see me for who I am is over,” Grimm said in a statement emailed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented him. “Being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom, and the girl’s room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education.”

Gene Schaerr, the lead lawyer for the school board, didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

“This is a victory for transgender students, who simply want to be themselves without worrying about being rejected or refused access to basic dignities,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, in an email.

Restroom Change

In backing Grimm, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pointed to the 2020 Supreme Court decision that said federal job-discrimination law protects gay and transgender workers. That law uses language similar to the wording in the federal statute that bars discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

Grimm, who was born biologically female, came out as transgender to his parents during his freshman year and attended Gloucester High School as a male starting in his sophomore year.

The eastern Virginia school let Grimm use the boys’ restroom for several weeks before the school board intervened and voted to change the policy. As part of the new policy, the school added three single-user bathrooms.

In adopting the policy, the board said it “seeks to provide a safe learning environment for all students and to protect the privacy of all students.”

Grimm said in his lawsuit that the new policy prompted him to avoid using any restroom. The result was “unbearable stress, painful urinary-tract infections, and ultimately Gavin’s hospitalization for suicidal thoughts,” his lawyers said in court papers.

Grimm, now 22, has since undergone chest reconstruction surgery, won a court order changing his legal sex to male and received a new Virginia birth certificate listing his sex as male.

His lawsuit sought nominal damages and an order requiring the school district to list him as male on his transcript.

The case is Gloucester County School Board v. Grimm, 20-1163.