This school board has delayed ending transgender bathroom ban

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. (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Virginia ACLU)
Gavin Grimm sued the school division in 2015 after being forced to use restrooms that did not align with his gender identity. (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Virginia ACLU)

The Gloucester County School Board said Thursday that it won’t take any immediate action to overturn its transgender student bathroom ban, making what appeared to be a change in course after several community members urged the board to keep the ban in place.

Just a few days ago, the Gloucester County School Board was talking about possibly ending the four-year ban. A new policy was proposed that could help settle the discrimination lawsuit filed by Gavin Grimm, a former student who’s become a national face for transgender rights.

But then the board held a public meeting on Tuesday. Some people showed support for the proposal. Many did not, quoting passages from the Bible and saying that too many students would feel uncomfortable for the sake of a few.

Two days later, the board said in a statement that it “has not set a time frame for when any action will be taken or when any further discussion will be held regarding the resolution.”

The school board, which represents a somewhat rural community east of Richmond, declined to comment further.

In response, Grimm and his attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union promised to fight on.

“It’s disappointing that the board is choosing to prolong the suffering of trans youth in Gloucester County Public Schools, but we will see this fight through no matter how long it takes,” Grimm, 19, said in a statement.

ACLU attorney Joshua Block added he is “confident that Gavin will ultimately prevail. The federal courts are there to protect individuals from discrimination when politicians refuse to do so.”

The new policy the board had proposed would allow high school students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Block, the ACLU attorney, said the measure was discussed during a recent settlement hearing between both sides in an effort to resolve the case.

“The proposed policy is not something we would affirmatively support,” he said Tuesday. “But it is acceptable as part of a negotiated settlement.”

Meanwhile, a trial for Grimm’s lawsuit is scheduled for July in U.S. District Court.

The federal judge has already shown signs of support for Grimm’s cause. Last year, Judge Arenda Wright Allen declined the board’s request to dismiss, writing that the board’s policies “singled out and stigmatized Mr. Grimm.”

Kim Hensley, a former school board member who attended Tuesday night’s meeting, noted afterward that the community is divided over the bathroom issue. But she said support has grown for transgender students.

When the bathroom ban was put in place in 2014, she said there was “landslide” support for it.

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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.