Not long ago, Gavin Grimm was an unknown transgender teen in a small Virginia town, quietly waging a fight to use the boys’ bathroom at Gloucester High.
“I am just a human. I am just a boy. Please consider my rights when you make your decision,” Grimm told the school board in 2014. “I don’t want to be a trailblazer, but here I am in this position.” Still, they banned him from the boys’ bathroom.
Two and a half years later, Grimm’s lawsuit against the school board has made him a poster boy for transgender rights. He was featured in a National Geographic documentary produced by Katie Couric, and transgender actress Laverne Cox gave him a shout-out at the Grammys. His name is part of a social-media rallying cry for transgender student rights, #StandWithGavin.
Grimm learned Monday that the Supreme Court, which was scheduled to hear his case at the end of March, is instead remanding it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, disappointing him and other transgender students and advocates. The decision came after the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era directive for public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms of the gender they identify with, regardless of what is on their birth certificates.
For now, the 17-year-old is no longer Gavin Grimm, the Supreme Court plaintiff.
His case still could shape how schools in the 4th Circuit — which includes Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and the Carolinas — accommodate transgender students. The legal battle — and the poise he demonstrated before the school board and national media — has made him a lasting symbol for transgender students fighting to live normal lives.
Eliza Byard, executive director of the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said Grimm has emerged as an important figure for transgender teens, who research shows are more prone to bullying, mental-health problems and suicide.
“For them, Gavin Grimm’s fight for recognition has taken on incredible importance,” Byard said. These students were devastated, she said, that the Supreme Court would pass on Grimm’s case. “It is a missed opportunity to have his rights vindicated at the highest level.”
Grimm said the case has changed his life in strange ways. People recognize him everywhere: at a hole-in-the-wall diner in North Carolina, at Union Station in Washington, at the new Petco near his home in Gloucester, where he shopped Sunday for dog shoes that he plans to put on his pet pig, Esmeralda.
Those who have approached him have always done so with words of support, but Grimm sometimes worries that someone who recognizes him will have ill intentions.
“I’m a recognizable person, and that’s something I’m not quite used to yet,” Grimm said.
Celebrity has done little to alter how he is treated at school, where he uses the nurse’s restroom. In hallways, Grimm said he still encounters sidelong glances, whispers and stares.
Being in the spotlight has been time-consuming. Big developments in his case have filled his days with news conferences and interviews. The day before the Trump administration’s action on transgender student rights, Grimm was rallying outside the White House.
It is a role that can be draining, he said. There is less time to socialize, less time with friends, less time just being a teenager. But Grimm embraced the role.
“I’m just so honored to be able to carry the voice of such a wonderful community and so honored to be able to contribute to the positive conversation and whatever positive legal or social change that I can,” Grimm said.
Grimm, a senior, is waiting on college applications and is considering careers in teaching or genetics. He said he is also thinking about pursuing full-time activism.
His case is unlikely to be resolved before he graduates from high school, but Grimm said he is still glad he challenged the school board.
“This doesn’t signify a loss,” Grimm said of the high court’s decision to pass on the case. “We’re just going to keep moving forward as vehemently as we have been so far.”