Transgender bathroom ban may end, but transcript irks teen

Grimm sued the Gloucester County School Board in 2015 after being forced to use separate restrooms from his peers

On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered the Gloucester County School Board to schedule a settlement conference with 19-year-old transgender student Gavin Grimm, who sued the school division in 2015 after being forced to use restrooms that did not align with his gender identity. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Virginia ACLU)
As recently as December, Gloucester was still fighting the lawsuit as well as Gavin Grimm’s efforts to bring his transcripts into it.(Southside Daily/Courtesy of Virginia ACLU)

For nearly four years, Gavin Grimm has been suing his former school district after it banned him from using the boys bathrooms in high school.

Along the way, he’s became a national face for transgender rights. His case almost went to the U.S. Supreme Court. He graduated and moved to California but kept fighting.

The Gloucester County School may finally be giving in, although not in court. It will hold a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the possibility of allowing transgender students to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

“I have fought this legal battle for the past four years because I want to make sure that other transgender students do not have to go through the same pain and humiliation that I did,” he said.

The school board’s meeting comes just months before a trial is set to begin over its current bathroom rules.

Grimm said the proposed policy “is far from perfect, but would represent an important first step for Gloucester.” The policy “would also send the message to school districts across (Virginia) and the country that discrimination is unacceptable,” he said.

Grimm has also been expanding his case against the school board. A federal judge ruled Thursday that he can sue over its refusal to change the gender on his high school transcript, which still lists him as female.

Grimm said the unchanged transcript will stigmatize him every time he applies to a college or potential employer that asks for it.

“I shouldn’t have to be outed against my will in every situation where I would have to give that document,” Grimm said during a phone interview from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he moved after graduating in 2017.

A court order legally made Grimm a man. And he is listed as male on his birth certificate, passport and a state-issued identification card in California.

The issue of Grimm’s transcript highlights another concern in the transgender community that, like bathroom policies, remains far from settled across the nation.

Federal law does not directly address the issue. Some states, such as Massachusetts, provide explicit guidance to schools for updating records. Others, such as Virginia, do not provide a clear path forward to schools.

“The issue is certainly rising as more students express their gender identity,” said Francisco M. Negron Jr., chief legal officer for the National School Boards Association.

“We would hope states offer clear guidance,” he added. “The alternative is that students would have to make the case on their own, and school districts would not have the benefit of clarity under state law.”

Paul D. Castillo, an attorney for the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, said Grimm’s effort to update his transcript is “not an isolated incident.”

“But it might be one of the first challenges based on federal law to update a student’s legal record,” Castillo said.

David Corrigan, the lead attorney for the Gloucester County School Board, declined to comment on the case or on how it could be impacted by a possible policy change. The district is located about an hour east of Richmond.

Grimm’s lawsuit has followed a circuitous path that almost included a stop at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court had scheduled arguments for 2017. But they were scrapped after the Trump Administration withdrew recommendations from the Obama-era to allow students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender.

As recently as December, Gloucester was still fighting the lawsuit as well as Grimm’s efforts to bring his transcripts into it.

Grimm and the American Civil Liberties Union claim the policy violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and federal policies that protect against sex discrimination. They make the same argument about Grimm’s transcripts.

The school board had argued that its bathroom policy did not violate Grimm’s rights but protected students’ privacy.

Regarding the transcripts, the board says such records are a matter of state law, which shouldn’t be argued in federal court.

Plus, the board said, Grimm has ignored federal guidance on such matters. The guidance recommends holding a hearing with school officials to discuss changing “misleading” or “inaccurate” information on a record.

If the board refuses to make a change, the guidance says a person can then place a statement with the contested record that lays out his or her point of view.

It’s unclear if a change in the board’s bathroom policy could lead to a change on Grimm’s transcripts.

Since moving to California, Grimm has been studying at a community college and working as an activist and educator.

He’s been able to avoid submitting his transcript to anyone so far. But that will likely change soon. He’s looking for more traditional work and will eventually apply to four-year schools.

“I’m still tethered to 2017 by this document,” he said. “It’s unfair that a high school that put me through so much is able to wield that much negative influence over my adult life.”

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.