Supreme Court rejects transgender bathroom dispute in win for student

Washington — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a yearslong legal battle over a Virginia school board’s policy prohibiting transgender students from using the restroom and locker room facilities that reflect their gender identity.

In an unsigned order, the court denied the request from the Gloucester County School Board to review a lower court ruling that struck down its policy, leaving the decision in favor of transgender student Gavin Grimm intact. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would have heard the case.

Grimm first challenged the school board’s policy in 2015 when he was a student at Gloucester High School, which prohibited any student “with gender identity issues” from using the restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The policy, he argued, discriminated against him on the basis of sex and transgender status in violation of Title IX and the Constitution.

Grimm’s case made its way to the Supreme Court in 2016, but the high court sent the dispute back to the lower courts after the Trump administration withdrew guidance from the Department of Education issued under former President Barack Obama that advised schools to allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

A divided three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then sided with Grimm last year and found the school board discriminated against him in violation of federal law and the 14th Amendment. Grimm, the 4th Circuit said, was treated worse than similarly situated students because he couldn’t use the restroom corresponding with his gender and instead had to use single-stall facilities. The lower court used as guidance the Supreme Court’s decision last term that found LGBTQ workers are protected under federal civil rights law from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court leaves the 4th Circuit’s decision in place. Grimm had urged the high court not to take up the legal battle.

Josh Block, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who represented Grimm, called the Supreme Court’s denial of the school board’s appeal “an incredible victory for Gavin and for transgender students around the country.”

Grimm, too, said he was happy to see the year-long battle come to a close.

“Being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom, and the girl’s room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education,” he said in a statement. “Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”