Gavin Grimm. Credit: American Civil Liberties Union

From the Boys’ Bathroom to the Supreme Court: The Story of Gavin Grimm’s Fight for Transgender Rights

On Sunday, February 12th, the Grammys provided many Americans with a short break from the crushing reality of a Trump presidency. However, one star decided to use her platform to bring attention to an issue that was being overlooked by many anti-Trump movements. While announcing the performance of Lady GaGa and Metallica, Laverne Cox forgot to say the name of the band, but the name she said instead was just as important. During her very brief speech on the Grammy stage, Cox, a trans actress and activist, asked the audience to “please Google Gavin Grimm,” and they listened. The day after the Grammys aired, Google searches for “Gavin Grimm” literally went from 0 to 100. February 13th was the peak of interest in the subject on Google Trends. So, who is Gavin Grimm?

Gavin is a 17-year-old high school senior from Gloucester, Virginia. In 2014, Gavin decided to use the boys’ bathroom at school, because he felt the sign on the door matched his gender identity. Gavin’s mother had contacted school administrators at the beginning of his sophomore year to notify them of his gender identity, and Gavin received permission from school administrators to use the bathroom of his choice. For weeks, Gavin was able to peacefully use the boys’ bathroom without question. Meanwhile, Gavin’s decision to go to the bathroom sparked a massive local debate in Gloucester County, where 66.8 percent of voters voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 63.1 percent of voters voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Due to an influx of complaints from parents and Gloucester County residents, the Gloucester County School Board adopted a new policy on December 9, 2014, by a vote of 6-1, that limited access to the boys’ and girls’ restrooms to students of “corresponding biological genders” and stated that students who could not use the restroom that matched their biological sex would have to use an “alternative appropriate private facility.” With the support of the ACLU, Gavin filed a suit against the Gloucester County School Board in 2015, claiming that their policy went against Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded educational program or activity. After being denied by the district court, the case moved to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit where the district court’s ruling was overrules in August of 2016. Gloucester County School Board petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, and now the Supreme Court is set to hear Gavin’s case in March. This is the first time that the Supreme Case will hear a case about transgender rights, and now Gavin’s case is so much bigger than Gloucester County.

Last Tuesday, when asked about whether Trump would overturn the Obama administration’s protection for transgender students, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that it was a “states rights issue,” and that the federal government would not get involved. The next day, it was announced that President Trump would in fact be overturning the Obama administration’s federal protections of transgender students. The Departments of Justice and Education released a joint letter claiming that Title IX does not allow transgender students access to sex-segregated spaces based on their gender identity and that, in their defense of transgender students, the Obama administration failed to do “extensive legal analysis” or explain how their stance was “consistent with the express language of Title IX.” The Trump administration’s decision caused a wave of shock, fear, and anger across America, specifically in the transgender community. On Thursday on The View, Gavin Grimm appeared with Laverne Cox to speak about his case and share his feelings about the recent actions of the Trump administration. Gavin express his worry that leaving civil rights issues up to the states would delay civil rights for years beyond Trump’s administration. Cox added that this sends the message that trans lives do not matter to the United States’ federal government.

As Gavin heads to the Supreme Court, many trans youth wait with fear, anxiety, and a sprinkle of hope in their hearts. The current Supreme Court is split with 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans. Luckily, it will be at least a few months before Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, staunchly conservative Neil Gorsuch, is able to be approved. In March, the Supreme Court will be given a chance to take advantage of our country’s checks and balances system, which was put in place to prevent the kinds of abuse of power that Donald Trump has shown time and time again, and to take a stand against him. They will either take a historic step forward in the fight for transgender rights, or take one step backwards farther into injustice.

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Join us on March 15 at 6pm for a Dialogue with Columbia University Professor Jack Halberstam Trans*:  A Quick and Quirky Guide to Gender Variance rsvp at lapietra.dialogues@nyu.edu

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