A federal district judge has issued a final ruling in favor of transgender student Gavin Grimm, holding that the Gloucester County, Va., school board’s policy that barred Grimm from using restrooms corresponding with his gender identity violated his rights under Title IX and the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“In sum, there is no question that the board’s policy discriminates against transgender students on the basis of their gender non-conformity,” U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of Norfolk, Va., wrote in an Aug. 9 decision. “Under the policy, all students except for transgender students may use restrooms corresponding with their gender identity. Transgender students are singled out, subjected to discriminatory treatment, and excluded from spaces where similarly situated students are permitted to go.”
Grimm, who is now a 20-year-old college student, has seen his case go up and down the judicial ladder, and it still may be far from over. The U.S. Supreme Court had agreed in 2016 to use the case to decide about whether courts should defer to Obama-era guidance calling on schools to allow transgender students to use facilities corresponding to their gender identity.
But when President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew that guidance in 2017, the case returned to lower courts on the more fundamental question of whether Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in federally funded schools, covers transgender students.
Wright ruled on that important threshold issue in Grimm’s case in 2018, holding that claims of discrimination on the basis of transgender status may be brought under a gender-stereotyping theory covered by Title IX.
In the new decision in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, Wright granted summary judgment to Grimm and rejected the school board’s own summary judgment motion and its motions to strike certain evidence.
The school board’s policy required limited male and female locker rooms and restrooms to the “corresponding biological genders” and said students with gender identity issues would be offered “an alternative appropriate private facility,”
“The board’s assertion that Mr. Grimm has suffered no harm as a result of its policy is strikingly unconvincing,” the judge said. “Mr. Grimm broke down sobbing at school because there was no restroom he could access comfortably.”
Wright said that the school board continues to harm Grimm by refusing to update his school records to reflect his male identity.
“Whenever Mr. Grimm has to provide a copy of his transcript to another entity, such as a new school or employer, he must show them a document that negates his male identity and marks him different from other boys.”
Wright issued a permanent injunction declaring that the policy violated Title IX and the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause. The injunction awards Grimm $1 in nominal damages, but also orders the board to change his school records to reflect the male designation on his updated birth certificate.
Wright quoted Nelson Mandela and concluded by stating, “However well-intentioned some external challenges may have been and however sincere worries were about possible unknown consequences arising from a new school restroom protocol, the perpetuation of harm to a child stemming from unconstitutional conduct cannot be allowed to stand.”
Grimm, in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has represented him throughout his case, said, ""It is such a relief to achieve this closure and vindication from the court after four years of fighting not just for myself, but for trans youth across America.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Gloucester County School Board.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.