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Supreme Court issues stay in transgender bathroom case, blocking teen’s use of boys’ bathroom

Gavin Grimm at his home in Gloucester, Va., in August 2015. (Steve Helber/AP)

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in a case involving a transgender teen who is suing his school board for the right to use the boys’ bathroom at his Virginia high school, a move that halts a court order that would have allowed the student to use the bathroom of his choice when the school year begins.

Gavin Grimm, 17, sued the school board in Gloucester County, Va., last year after it passed a policy requiring students to use bathrooms corresponding with their “biological sex,” resulting in him being barred from the boys’ bathroom.

Grimm’s lawsuit alleging civil rights violations was initially dismissed, but in April the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit sided with Grimm, saying his case could move forward. It deferred to the Obama administration’s position that barring transgender students from bathrooms that coincide with their gender identity is a violation of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination.

Federal appeals court sides with transgender teen, says bathroom case can go forward

A U.S. District Court judge later granted Grimm a preliminary injunction that would have allowed him to use the boys’ bathroom. The school board, which plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the case, fought the court order, saying that allowing Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom would disrupt the school and cause irreparable harm. The board asked for the high court to halt the order while it prepares an official request to hear the case.

In an unusual 5-to-3 decision, the high court said it would stay the judgment and halt the order until it decides whether to take the case. If the Supreme Court declines to take the case, it will lift the stay.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said he was joining the conservative justices in granting the stay as a “courtesy” that would preserve the status quo while considering the school board’s request to review the case. It takes only four justices to accept a case, but Breyer’s statement indicated he should not be considered the necessary fifth vote to overturn the appeals court. The three other liberal justices said they would not have issued the stay.

Joshua Block, an attorney with the ACLU who is representing Grimm, said it is disappointing that the court granted the stay.

“It’s disappointing that Gavin is going to have to begin yet another school year being stigmatized and isolated from the rest of the students,” Block said.

The Gloucester County School Board praised the Supreme Court's decision and defended its policy of barring Grimm from the boys' bathroom and instead allowing him to use unisex bathrooms at school.

"The School Board welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision as the new school year approaches," the school board said in a statement. "The Board continues to believe that its resolution of this complex matter fully considered the interests of all students and parents in the Gloucester County school system."

This story has been updated.