Federal judge sides with Gavin Grimm in transgender rights, bathroom ban case

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)
Gavin Grimm. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Virginia ACLU)

A federal court has determined a local school board discriminated against transgender student Gavin Grimm when it passed a policy limiting bathroom use to students’ biological sex, as well as when it refused to change information on Grimm’s school transcript to “male.”

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled Friday to award damages in the amount of $1 to Grimm in the case against the Gloucester County School Board, according to court documents.

The ruling is the latest update in a case spanning several years between Grimm, 20, and the school board. While Grimm, a 2017 Gloucester graduate, legally changed the gender on his birth certificate while a high school senior, the school board’s policy required him to use girls or private restrooms.

“Mr. Grimm ‘soon found it stigmatizing to use a separate restroom,’ however, and ‘began to feel anxiety and shame surrounding [his] travel to the nurse’s office,’” the ruling reads.

Because the private restrooms were often far from his classes and he avoided using the school restrooms, Grimm eventually developed urinary tract infections from waiting to use the bathroom.

A Virginia judge previously ruled Grimm was male, while the school board’s defense attorney argued late last month the ruling and male birth certificate do not make Grimm a man.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the policy and treatment violated Grimm’s rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects against gender-based discrimination — a judge agreed Friday in the ruling.

Grimm’s is a pivotal case in the nationwide discussion on transgender rights, including whether those who identify as transgender should or can use the bathrooms associated with their gender identity.

Those discussions are ongoing. During his tenure, President Donald Trump also rescinded Obama-era guidance advising students could choose which bathroom they use based on their gender identity.

The federal judge Friday also issued a permanent injunction forcing the school board to update Grimm’s official school records to reflect his gender identity and provide copies of those records to him within 10 days of the ruling.

The school board is also required to pay Grimm’s court costs and attorneys fees.

Grimm’s case began in 2014 when Grimm began identifying as male per a doctor’s order. The psychologist, Lisa Griffin, had experience treating transgender youth, and said Grimm should be allowed to represent as male and use the corresponding restrooms.

Gloucester High School’s principal eventually agreed to let Grimm use the boys bathrooms after Grimm’s mother said Grimm found using the nurse’s bathroom stigmatizing. 

There were no incidents involving other students during the weeks Grimm used the restroom.

The issue came to the school board after adult members of the community learned a transgender boy was using the male restrooms.

After the complaints, the school board introduced a policy barring students from using any gender-specific restroom that did not correspond with the student’s biological gender.

That policy was found to be discriminatory Friday.

Grimm now lives in California and has undergone chest reconstruction surgery and hormone therapy. He attends Berkeley City College and intends to transfer to a 4-year college.

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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.