The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Virginia school board's appeal to reinstate its transgender bathroom ban.
Over two dissenting votes, the justices left in place lower court rulings that found the policy unconstitutional. The case involved former high school student Gavin Grimm, who filed a federal lawsuit after he was told he could not use the boys bathroom at his public high school. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas voted to hear the board’s appeal.
The Gloucester County, Virginia, school board’s policy required Grimm to use restrooms that corresponded with his biological sex — female — or private bathrooms.
Seven years ago, Grimm was barred from using the boys restroom when he was a 15-year-old student at Gloucester High School. He sued a year later, and his case has worked its way through the courts ever since.
Grimm said in an interview Monday on MSNBC that he was celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision but also frustrated it took nearly seven years.
“There’s a lot of emotions wrapped up in here. The fact that it took as long as it did to affirm the basic humanity of trans youth, and then only in the Fourth Circuit, is frustrating. This victory is important and wonderful and will not go under-appreciated by me,” he said.
David Corrigan, an attorney for the school board, did not immediately respond to email and voice mail messages seeking comment.
In its petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the school board argued that its bathroom policy poses a “pressing federal question of national importance.”
The board argued previously that federal laws protect against discrimination based on sex, not gender identity. Because Grimm had not undergone sex-reassignment surgery, the board’s position has been that he remained anatomically a female.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Grimm in his yearslong lawsuit against Gloucester, argued that federal law makes it clear transgender students are protected from discrimination.
The Case’s Impact on Virginia and Beyond
The court’s decision gives important support to LGBTQ youth, said Roxy Solis, who led the Gender & Sexuality Alliance at Falls Church High School, in Northern Virginia, before recently graduating.
“It gives them a peace of mind. I think it reassures them their rights won’t be challenged,” Sollis said.
“I think it will make students feel more validated,” said teacher Robert Rigby, also of Falls Church High.
Nearby Fairfax County public schools already have protections in place for transgender students. A new law means school districts across Virginia must implement this plan next school year. Requirements include giving access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms as corresponds with students’ gender identity.
There has been some strong pushback. The Loudoun County School Board recently shut down a raucous public comment session on its proposed policies on the treatment of transgender students.
Two lawsuits have been filed against the Virginia Department of Education—including one from Founding Freedoms Law Center, the legal arm of The Family Foundation—seeking to halt the implementation of model policies on transgender students.
"It is disappointing that the Supreme Court ignored the school board’s actions which were based on the standards of the community. Unfortunately, the policies recommended by Governor's [sic] Northam’s Department of Education go far beyond the narrow impact of today’s Supreme Court decision," Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation, said. "It is possible to find balanced and compassionate ways to protect every child—including protecting kids struggling with their gender—without sacrificing some kids’ safety on the altar of political appeasement."
The Supreme Court’s action means the lower court’s ruling upholding transgender rights remains in place in Virginia and the rest of the Fourth Circuit, which includes Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.