When Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student who was born female, began using the boys’ bathroom at his Virginia school, he expected some difficulties. Maybe he’d receive a snide comment, or a sidelong glance, or a double-take.
What he could not anticipate was being at the center of a high-profile court fight that could have implications reverberating far beyond the hallways of Gloucester High School. Grimm, 16, sued the Gloucester County School Board after it created a policy that required students to use bathrooms according to their “biological sex” instead of gender identity. The case has drawn national attention to the issue of who can use which public bathroom and has put Grimm in the middle of an emotional fight over LGBT rights.
The high school junior said the School Board’s policy has made him avoid the bathroom at school if he can and has pushed him to use the nurse’s bathroom when he absolutely has to, elevating the most mundane of human functions into a daily minefield. Grimm said the restrictions have had psychological effects at a time of adolescence that is usually challenging in and of itself.
“It’s very unfortunate that I have to go to bat to use the bathroom,” Grimm said. “It’s sort of absurd to think about.”
Tuesday marked a major moment in Grimm’s bathroom fight, with a federal appeals court in Richmond saying he could continue his discrimination lawsuit against the School Board. The judges also ruled that a lower court should reconsider Grimm’s request for a court order that would allow him to use the boys’ bathroom while the lawsuit is pending.
The Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit deferred to the Obama administration’s position that requiring transgender students to use a bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex amounts to a violation of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.
Grimm was at home Wednesday processing the latest development in his sometimes surreal, months-long fight to use the boys’ bathroom, and he said he feels affirmed by the ruling, even though his case is far from settled.
“It was just an immediate moment of catharsis, and it was just very, very relieving,” Grimm said.
Grimm’s case has been part of a national debate over LGBT rights that has increasingly focused on which bathrooms transgender people should use. Lawmakers in several states have weighed bills that would require transgender people to use bathrooms according to the sex on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity, arguing that the requirements are important to safeguard privacy and traditional values.
North Carolina was the first state to require people to use bathrooms according to the sex on their birth certificate, and the issue has proved deeply polarizing.
North Carolina’s law has inspired student protests and moved businesses and entertainers to boycott the state. Protesters in Los Angeles who showed up at the Santee Education Complex on Tuesday to speak out against a gender-neutral bathroom ended up brawling with high schoolers outside the school, according to NBC4 Southern California.
Francisco Negron, general counsel for the National School Boards Association, said school officials are often anxious and confused about their obligations when it comes to accommodating transgender students because the law is “unsettled.” The ruling puts schools in North Carolina in a bind, with state law conflicting with federal regulations, Negron said.
“What is a school district to do in those areas?” Negron said Wednesday. “It’s really kind of an untenable situation, where a state law is running up against a federal regulation.”
The court’s ruling marked a high point for Grimm, who was put into the middle of the turmoil last year when Gloucester parents expressed concern over his using the boys’ bathroom. They hurled insults at School Board meetings, and they talked about him as if he weren’t a person.
Even Wednesday, while he was elated over the court’s decision, he called his fight to use the boys’ bathroom “long and grueling and unfortunate.”
Grimm said he hopes that his fight will pave the way for other transgender youth to use the school bathrooms of their choice. He and experts have said that using the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity is important for his mental health.
“Knowing how awful and terrible the situation has been for me, I’m just so glad less people are going to have to go through this in the future,” Grimm said. “It’s just important to know that we’re people and we have the same sorts of hopes and dreams and aspirations as anybody else on this planet. . . . We’re human beings.”