A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that a school district in rural, coastal Virginia cannot ban a female student from boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms because the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX allows students who call themselves transgender to choose their own bathrooms.
The student at the center of the lawsuit, Gavin Grimm, attends Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Va.
The reason school officials prevented Grimm from using facilities reserved for boys on campus is because Grimm was born a girl and by all accounts remains a girl.
In December 2014, by a 6-to-1 vote, the Gloucester school board refused to allow Grimm to use boys’ bathrooms and locker rooms. The board had received complaints from dozens of irate parents because the then-16-year-old female student had been using the boys’ facilities for seven weeks or so.
School board chairman George (Randy) Burak observed at the time that other students use bathrooms and locker rooms in addition to Grimm.
“This issue is not about one student. Rather, it’s about all our students,” Burak said at the time, according to area CBS affiliate WTKR.
To placate Grimm, the school district paid to build a number of unisex, single-person bathrooms for all students — including Grimm — to use.
Grimm was unsatisfied. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, she and her parents sued the school district under Title IX, a comprehensive 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. (RELATED: ACLU Sues To Allow Girl To Use Boys Bathroom, Locker Rooms At Public High School)
“I just want to use the restroom in peace,” Grimm declared in a June 2015 ACLU press release obtained by the Washington Blade, America’s oldest gay-oriented newspaper. “Since the school board passed this policy I feel singled out and humiliated every time I need to use the restroom.”
A U.S. District Court judge ruled against Grimm in the fall.
“Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and not on the basis of other concepts such as gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation,” the judge ruled, according to Richmond, Va. CBS affiliate WTVR.
However, a three-judge Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruled on Tuesday that the district court failed to obey the U.S. Department of Education interpretation of Title IX. President Barack Obama’s Education Department has determined that Title IX requires that transgender students must be able to use the bathroom they feel like their gender identity best matches. (RELATED: TWO PEOPLE Have Filed OVER 1,700 Sex Discrimination Complaints With Dept. Of Education)
“Because we conclude the district court did not accord appropriate deference to the relevant Department of Education regulations, we reverse its dismissal of G.G.’s Title IX claim,” Judge Henry Floyd, an Obama appointee, wrote in the appellate opinion.
The court held that the lower court judge “used the wrong evidentiary standard” in issuing a ruling in favor the Gloucester school board. The court remanded the case to the district court “for consideration under the correct standard.”
Grimm, the student, was elated.
“Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school,” she said in an ACLU statement obtained by WTVR.
At least one physician has diagnosed Grimm with gender dysphoria, which means that Grimm insists she is actually a boy even though she was born with — and lived her life with — female reproductive organs.
In 2015, Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project, described the Gloucester school board policy that girls and boys should use separate bathrooms and locker rooms as “deeply stigmatizing and needlessly cruel.”
“Any student — transgender or not — should be free to use single-stall restrooms if they want extra privacy,” Block told the Daily Press of Newport News.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a group which advocates for gay and transgender students, applauded Tuesday’s appeals court ruling.
“Today’s monumental decision reinforces the Obama Administration’s position that Title IX protects transgender and gender nonconforming public school students from discrimination,” Nathan Smith, the group’s public policy director, said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller.
“In light of the court’s decision, it is imperative that” Obama’s Department of Education “issue clear guidance to school districts across the United States on serving transgender and gender nonconforming students under Title IX,” Smith added.
John Banzhaf, a famed public interest law professor at the George Washington University Law School, notes that states legislatures can pass laws which require students to use taxpayer-funded public school bathrooms which match their actual anatomy.
“While federal law may override state statutes in many areas of law, courts have repeatedly held that, for this to happen, the intent of Congress to preempt state law must be very clear, either in the text of the statute itself, or by unambiguous legislative history. Here there is neither,” Banzhaf told The Daily Caller in a statement.
“In this case, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit based its ruling not upon any such language in Title IX (which expressly permits restrooms segregated by gender), nor even upon a regulation which had been adopted in according with the normal procedure which permits public comments before it was issued,” Banzhaf explained. “Rather, it said that the lower court, which had rebuffed the student’s complaint, did not give sufficient deference to a so-called guidance document issued by the Department of Education; essentially an opinion on what a regulation means.”
Banzhaf’s radical solution — instead of unisex, single-person bathrooms — is the option of an all-gender bathroom with a bunch of stalls open to everyone.