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Supreme Court Won't Hear Major Trans Rights Case—Leaving Students in Limbo

Mar 6 2017 8:20 PM
Supreme Court Won't Hear Major Trans Rights Case—Leaving Students in Limbo

Gavin Grimm and his mom. Screenshot via ACLU

"If [this fight] took ten years I would stick with it," said Gavin Grimm, the transgender student at the center of the case.

When the Supreme Court announced that it would be reviewing the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy from Gloucester, Virginia, who is fighting for his right to use the bathroom at school, LGBTQ advocates saw it as a historic opportunity to set a precedent and solidify trans rights.

But the high court's decision to take on the case was complicated. In 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had already ruled that Grimm had the right to use the boys' restroom, siding against his school's policy, which mandated transgender kids must use a segregated, "alternative private" restroom.

The decision was based on an interpretation of Title IX—the federal law banning sex discrimination in educational institutions—using the Obama administration's guidance to federally funded schools, which clarified the law protected transgender students. The Gloucester County School Board then petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case in order to halt the ruling.

Read more: 'She Was Asking the Lord to Let Her Die': Raising a Trans Child in Texas

Now that the Supreme Court has announced that it is vacating the case, Grimm's petition will go back to the lower court. This time, however, it will have to be "reconsidered in light of the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Education rescinding of a Title IX guidance clarifying protections for transgender students," according to the ACLU. (In February, the DOJ under Trump issued a guidance of its own, essentially reversing the Obama administration's directive to protect trans students around the country and saying that trans rights are something that individual states and schools must decide on.)

According to reports, this decision means that Grimm, a senior in high school, will likely not be able to use the bathroom at his school before he graduates. In an ACLU press conference that took place after the Supreme Court's announcement, Grimm said that being forced to use a separate restroom facility has taken a psychological toll on him. He says he avoids going to the bathroom.

"When you're in a position where you are individually singled out... Your school board has sent a message that there's something about you and your community that needs to be segregated from the rest of your student body. It can add an extra level of stress and duress," he explained. "It can certainly complicate your ability to focus on what you need to focus on."

It can certainly complicate your ability to focus on what you need to focus on.

Despite the setback, and even though the DOJ has rescinded the Obama-era guidance, the ACLU argues that the law hasn't changed, and that Title IX still protects trans kids by design. "There are five other district courts that have ruled in favor of transgender kids. Any school board that is interested in looking to comply with the law can look to those court decisions," Joshua Brock, a senior staff attorney at ACLU, said in the press conference. "This is going to have the biggest impact on those school boards who are not looking to comply with the law."

"This is obviously not what we had hoped for today... This is an urgent situation for transgender students around the country, and deferring the case will impose severe harms on them," Brock added. "That said, I think this is justice delayed, not justice denied."

In a Medium post published earlier today, Chase Strangio, a lawyer with the ACLU, echoed this statement. "Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in educational institutions, and the Constitution of the United States continue to protect trans students from discrimination. We will not have our day in the high court this term, but we will continue to fight in the lower courts," Strangio wrote. "We will continue to fight in the streets."

"This is going to keep trans kids in limbo for an extended period of time," Grimm said. "But I think everyone is as empowered and as ready as they've always been. If [this fight] took ten years, I would stick with it."

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