A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court’s ruling, saying that Title IX cannot be argued in the case of a transgender student barred from using the boys’ restrooms at his high school.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a district judge “used the wrong evidentiary standard in assessing [Gavin Grimm’s] motion for a preliminary injunction. The court vacated the denial and sent it back to the judge for consideration “under the correct standard.”
in July, Grimm and his attorneys from the ACLU filed an injunction asking the district judge to allow Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom at his school while he waited for his case to be litigated. The judge dismissed the injunction. Grimm could not use Title IX as the basis of his argument that the Gloucester County School Board policy is discriminatory. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex.
The judge stated that Title IX does not protect students based on gender identity, but only on sex, therefore Grimm was not discriminated against, and the injunction was thrown out.
According to the appeals court decision, the Department of Education recently expanded its discrimination policy in an opinion letter dated January 7, 2015. The letter said “When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex… a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”
The Court of Appeals found that the district judge “declined to afford deference to the department’s interpretation.” In other words, the appeals panel ruled that Title IX could be interpreted in many different ways, thus the judge should have allowed the ACLU to make a Title IX argument.
The appeals court has ruled the district judge must reconsider the injunction.
“I feel so relieved and vindicated by the court’s ruling.” said Grimm. “Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school.”
The appeals court’s ruling establishes legal precedent in the five states in the 4th Circuit, including North Carolina, which faces a lawsuit challenging a new state law requiring transgender public school students to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate.
Tuesday evening, other organizations that oppose transgender bathroom protections released statements including Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation of Virginia.
“The court today opined that the case should go back to the lower court for that judge to determine which definition of sex should be enforced in our schools, the one found in an advisory letter from the Obama administration, or the one used by the Gloucester school board that’s based on actual science and reality.
“A society cannot function properly without basic, social norms like male and female. The social chaos that would ensue from ignoring biological reality will inevitably bring tremendous harm to our children and limit freedom, not expand it. Hopefully, as this case proceeds, a reasonable judge or court will step in and reaffirm that our children have the dignity of basic privacy rights in bathrooms and showers. Anything short of that will put vulnerable children at tremendous emotional, physical and developmental risk.”
Grimm was born female but identifies as male. He was allowed to use the boys’ restrooms at the school for several weeks in 2014. But after some parents complained, the school board adopted a policy requiring students to use either the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender or a private, single-stall restroom.
Grimm called the policy stigmatizing. School officials said the policy respects the privacy of all students.
The U.S. Justice Department filed a “statement of interest” in Grimm’s case in July, declaring that failure to allow transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity amounts to sex discrimination.
Grimm, 16, said he started refusing to wear girls’ clothes by age 6 and told his parents he was transgender in April 2014.
Grimm’s parents helped him legally change his name, and a psychologist diagnosed him with gender dysphoria, characterized by stress stemming from conflict between one’s gender identity and assigned sex at birth. Grimm began hormone treatment to deepen his voice and give him a more masculine appearance.