“I DIDN’T ask to be this way. All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace.” That’s what 16-year-old Grimm told the Gloucester County (Va.) School Board last year as it debated whether to bar the transgender student from using the boys’ restrooms. His appeal for personal dignity didn’t seem to matter. Nor did the fact that he had been using the boys’ bathrooms without incident until some adults in the community got riled up about the issue. So a federal appellate ruling in his favor was a welcome development that will help to advance protections for the rights of transgender people.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond ruled recently that Mr. Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male, can proceed with a discrimination suit against the school board in southeastern Virginia. The 2-to-1 decision orders a lower court to rehear the high school junior’s claims of his rights being violated and to reconsider a request allowing Mr. Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom while the case is pending. The school board is petitioning for a rehearing by the full appeals court. Central to the case, according to the three-judge panel, is the U.S. Education Department’s position that requiring transgender students to use bathrooms or locker rooms corresponding with their biological sex violates federal rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
The ruling comes at a time of heated national debate over transgender rights. A number of states have enacted or are considering laws that infringe on the rights of gay and transgender people. Much as bathrooms figured in past civil rights struggles, they are often used today as justification for these discriminatory laws. That was the case in North Carolina, where Gov. Pat McCrory (R) invoked the imminent dangers of men using the women’s bathroom by claiming to be a woman. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) railed on the presidential campaign trail that “grown men would be allowed alone in a bathroom with little girls.” Really? It is transgender people who run the real risk of being assaulted or harassed for being in the “wrong” bathroom. GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump, not normally a voice of reason, was right this time: “There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go. They use the bathroom they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble.”
The appeals court ruling applies to every state in its circuit, including North Carolina. Already facing national and international backlash, the state should take this decision as additional impetus to repeal its backward legislation. The ruling should give pause to other states thinking about enacting similar, unnecessary restrictions, and hopefully it will lead to a day when Mr. Grimm — and other young people who struggle with the challenges of being transgender — won’t have to face hurdles in doing something as basic as going to the bathroom.