Equity & Diversity

Is Transgender Teen’s Case Moot Because He Graduated? Court Seeks Answer.

By Evie Blad — August 02, 2017 2 min read
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Does transgender teen Gavin Grimm still have standing to sue his school district over access to the boys’ bathroom since he graduated in June?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., asked a lower court to answer that question Wednesday, further delaying a groundbreaking case that has dragged on since July 2015.

That same federal appeals court previously granted Grimm a preliminary injunction that allowed him to use the boys’ bathroom, arguing that the Gloucester County, Va., school district should have deferred to what was then the federal interpretation of Title IX’s protections against sex discrimination, an interpretation that argued that the law applies more broadly to gender identity.

That interpretation, asserted under President Obama, has since been withdrawn by President Donald Trump’s administration, leaving many transgender students in legal limbo as their states and schools seek to interpret federal law.

After the U.S. Supreme Court opted not to hear his case, Grimm asked the 4th Circuit to fast track it and make a decision before he got his diploma, but he did not receive that decision. In its Wednesday order, the court summarized arguments the school and Grimm’s attorneys have made about whether or not the case should continue:

The School Board argues that, absent any allegation of a ‘particular intention to return to school after graduation,’ this change of status deprives Grimm of a continued interest in the litigation, rendering the case moot. The School Board states further that its bathroom policy does not necessarily apply to alumni, and that the issue of whether the policy is applicable to alumni is not yet ripe for adjudication. In his briefing, Grimm challenges these contentions, arguing that his possible ‘future attendance at alumni and school-community events’ establishes a concrete interest in obtaining an injunction, and that the School Board’s ‘noncommittal statement’ regarding the enforceability of its policy ‘falls far short of a representation that the Board will voluntarily cease discriminating against [him].’

Questions of standing are relevant in education cases because it’s not unusual for students to graduate or leave a school before a case is settled. In a recent U.S. Supreme Court case related to race-based preferences in college admissions, plaintiff Abigail Fisher had already graduated from another university before her complaint against the University of Texas was settled.

Grimm’s case is part of a handful of federal court cases that education law watchers are following to track emerging precedents about the rights of transgender students in schools.

Photo: In this photo from his Facebook page, Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who sued his Gloucester, Va., school district, showed off the way he decorated his hat when he graduated in June.

Further reading on transgender students:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.