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Setback for Equality: Supreme Court Blocks Transgender Teen's Bathroom Access

ACLU criticizes ruling for allowing Virginia school to 'isolate and stigmatize' teen

U.S. Supreme Court (Photo: Mark Fischer/flickr/cc)

It is the U.S. Supreme Court's first ruling on the issue that has become a new frontier for LGBTQ rights. (Photo: Mark Fischer/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked an order (pdf) that gave a transgender Virginia teen access to the same school restrooms as his male peers, which means he will not be able to use the facilities that correspond to his gender identity when classes resume in the fall.

Gavin Grimm, 17, brought the case against the Gloucester county school board in 2015 over what he argued was a discriminatory policy. In April, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals granted him a major victory by holding that Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use the facilities consistent with their gender identity. The court sent the case back to the trial judge for further proceedings.

The high court's stay of the order means Grimm's school can continue to "isolate and stigmatize" him, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Thursday.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented and said they would not have stayed the ruling. Justice Stephen Breyer sided with the court's four conservatives—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito—"as a courtesy" on the grounds that the ruling would "preserve the status quo" while Grimm's fight continues.

ACLU senior staff attorney Joshua Block, who is representing Grimm, said, "We are disappointed that the court has issued a stay and that Gavin will have to begin another school year isolated from his peers and stigmatized by the Gloucester County school board just because he's a boy who is transgender."

The ruling "also suggests that four Justices—the number needed to review a case on the merits—could be willing to take the case on, possibly as soon as this fall," wrote Amy Howe at SCOTUSBlog.

Howe said:

The one-page ruling indicated that the district court's order (as well as an earlier ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which hears appeals from federal district courts in Virginia) will at the very least remain on hold until the court rules on the school board's petition for review, which is due on August 29. If the Justices grant review, the district court's order would remain on hold until the court can hear oral arguments and issue its opinion.

"We remain hopeful that Gavin will ultimately prevail," Block said Wednesday.

It is the high court's first ruling on the issue that has become a new frontier in LGBTQ rights.

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