A federal district court in Virginia will hear arguments Monday from a transgender teen whose school district is forcing him to use a private bathroom at school. The case is one of several suits across the country filed by transgender students against schools that have enacted so-called “bathroom bully bills” that would keep kids from using restrooms that match their gender identities.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Gavin Grimm, a transgender 16-year-old at Gloucester High School in Virginia, are suing the Gloucester School District for unlawful discrimination, asking Judge Robert Doumar to halt a policy that bars Grimm from using the boys bathroom at school.
The Justice Department filed a statement of interest for the case earlier this month, writing that it was in the public's interest to make sure that “all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of sex discrimination.”
The judge is expected to rule within the next month.
Grimm, according to the lawsuit, “is a typical teenager who is articulate and intelligent, reads broadly, loves his dog and cats, and enjoys hanging out with his friends.”
He is also transgender. While Grimm was designated as female at birth, he felt uncomfortable wearing girls’ clothes from a young age, and at age six refused to wear them altogether. By the time Grimm was 12, he came out to his friends about his transgender male identity. After receiving their support, he came out to his parents and began seeing a psychologist, who diagnosed him with gender dysphoria, a medically recognized disorder in which a person’s innate sense of gender differs from the sex he or she is assigned at birth.
The psychologist recommended that Grimm start living life as a boy, so he changed his name to Gavin and began hormone treatments, according to court documents. “A critical element of that treatment is a ‘social transition’ in which [Grimm] lives in accordance with his gender identity as a boy in all aspects of his life,” the lawsuit says.
Before his sophomore year, Grimm and his mother notified the school that he was a transgender boy. School officials “immediately expressed support” for him and granted his request to use the boys restroom, “consistent with recognized standards of care for transgender students,” the lawsuit said.
But after seven weeks, some parents began to complain to the school board. At a school board meeting in November 2014, some parents referred to Grimm as “young lady.” Others called him “freak” or compared him to a dog who wanted to urinate on a fire hydrants, according to court documents. Still others complained that allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms that matched their gender identities could lead to sexual assaults.
Despite the insults, Grimm addressed parents at the school board meeting with a simple plea.
“All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace,” he said, according to court documents. “I did not ask to be this way, and it’s one of the most difficult things anyone can face. This could be your child. ... I’m just a human. I’m just a boy.”
But the board voted to approve a new policy that girls and boys bathrooms could only be used by students of “the corresponding biological genders,” adding that students who had “gender identity issues” could use “an alternative appropriate issue.” Grimm, consequently, has to use a bathroom that is separate from the other students.
The policy goes against the standards of care outlined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), a world body of doctors and psychologists who have outlined best practices for transgender health care.
The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a think tank that researches sexual orientation and gender identity, released a study in 2013 about the effects of denying access to certain bathrooms on transgender individuals.
The study found that nearly 60 percent of the transgender people it surveyed said they had avoided going out in public because of worries about safe access to public restrooms. And 54 percent said they had physical problems like dehydration or kidney infections from trying to avoid using public bathrooms.
Lawmakers in Nevada, Minnesota, Florida and Texas have introduced bills this year that would ban transgender children from using the bathrooms that match their gender identities, but none has been written into law.
At least two recent lawsuits have upheld access to bathrooms for transgender children. In 2013, the family of Coy Mathis, a transgender first grader, won a lawsuit against their Colorado school district that resulted in her being allowed her to use the girls bathroom. And in 2014, Maine's highest court ruled in favor of transgender student Nicole Maines after she sued when her high school required her to use a separate restroom for staff.