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Fourth Circuit Rules to Protect Virginia Transgender High School Student Under Title IX

Originally published on The Seattle Lesbian and re-published here with their permission.

Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Gloucester County student Gavin Grimm can proceed with his claims in court to challenge the school board’s discriminatory restroom policy of separating transgender students from their peers.

Lambda Legal and Transgender Law Center, along with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of school administrators that have adopted inclusive policies for their transgender students. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student barred from using the boy’s restroom in Gloucester County public schools.

“Today’s ruling recognizes that transgender students must be treated the same as their peers, and that refusing to allow them to use restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity is against the law,” said Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Tara Borelli. “Across the country, schools and school districts have proved the fear-mongering wrong: respectful and inclusive policies result in active and engaged students.”

“This case comes down to the simple principle that transgender students, like all students, should have the opportunity to go to school, get an education, and be treated fairly,” said Transgender Law Center Executive Director Kris Hayashi. “Today’s ruling sets a legal precedent confirming what the federal government has made clear again and again: schools cannot ban students from using the restroom that matches the gender they live as every day.”

For the brief, Lambda Legal interviewed superintendents, principals, and other school officials from Wisconsin to Kentucky and California to Florida, whose districts are collectively responsible for more than 1.2 million students. These interviews provided invaluable insight on why the hypothetical fears Gloucester County School Board raised in this case are not founded in reality. Instead, the brief gave a voice to school administrators with years of experience with inclusive policies and the positive impact these policies have had on their students and their schools overall.

“This is about treating all students with the dignity and respect that they deserve.  Our first job as educators is to provide safe and affirming environments for all of our young people to learn, thrive, and grow.  I am so proud of the work that our district has done to proactively create affirming procedures, and I am hopeful that more districts will do the same going forward,” said Jeremy Majeski, Principal of Komensky Elementary School in Berwyn, IL.

In the lawsuit, ACLU argued the restroom policy, which effectively expels transgender students from communal restrooms and requires them to use “alternative private” restroom facilities, is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and violates Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination by schools. The Fourth Circuit ruled that those claims must be allowed to proceed in the trial court. The Fourth Circuit also ruled that the lower court’s decision must follow the federal Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX, requiring access to single-sex facilities in accordance with gender identity.

Read the decision.
Know Your Rights about Restrooms and Locker Rooms.

Lambda Legal Attorneys Tara Borelli and Kyle Palazzolo are handling the matter with co-counsel Ilona Turner and Alison Pennington of the Transgender Law Center, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

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