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If the ruling ends in a tie vote, that would leave the lower court decision intact, but would not set a national precedent. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Supreme Court Will Rule on Long-Delayed Transgender Rights Case

Judges will review lower court decision that found 17-year-old Gavin Grimm is legally allowed to use male facilities at his high school

Nadia Prupis

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday it would hear a transgender rights case that has captured national attention regarding whether students can use school facilities that correspond with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex.

The judges will review an April decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that found Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old Virginia transgender boy, is legally allowed to use male facilities at his high school in Gloucester County. The school board appealed the ruling.

In August, the Supreme Court blocked the order until the case could be reviewed, meaning Gloucester High School is still able to ban Grimm from using the boy's restroom.

Josh Block, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) LGBTQ project, which represents Grimm, said, "It is disappointing that Gavin will probably have to finish out his high school career under this harmful, humiliating policy. These sorts of discriminatory policies stigmatize and isolate transgender students like Gavin just because of who they are."

According to USA Today, the case is likely to be heard by next April and decided by late June. Reporter Richard Wolf writes:

By agreeing to hear the case now, the justices likely are hoping that a ninth colleague will be confirmed by the time the case is heard. But with Senate Republicans blocking President Obama's nomination of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, that is far from guaranteed.

If the court goes forward with only eight justices, it could produce a tie vote that leaves the lower court's decision intact. That would be a victory for Grimm and the ACLU, but without national precedent.

Grimm said, "I never thought that my restroom use would ever turn into any kind of national debate. The only thing I ever asked for was the right to be treated like everyone else. While I'm disappointed that I will have to spend my final school year being singled out and treated differently from every other guy, I will do everything I can to make sure that other transgender students don’t have to go through the same experience."

In its winning argument before the appeals court, the ACLU argued that the school board's policy was a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws including Title IX. Grimm's case is one of several high-profile LGBTQ rights flashpoints in the country, as states including North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas debate laws that bar transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice.

"We look forward to presenting Gavin's case to the Supreme Court as the next step in the fight to ensure fairness and equality for trans people across the country," Block said.


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