By Susy Prochazka, RightsViews staff writer. 

On the 52nd anniversary of the start of the Stonewall uprising, advocates of LGBTQ rights scored a major victory when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal challenging a landmark trans rights ruling. On Monday, June 28th, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that required a Virginia public high school to let a transgender student use the bathroom corresponding with his gender identity. The Supreme Court’s decision represents a major victory for trans rights advocates amidst the flurry of anti-trans policies targeting trans youth that have emerged across the U.S. this past year. 

This case began in 2015 when Gavin Grimm, a then-16 year old transgender high school student, sued his public high school over a policy that prevented him from using the boys restroom. Beginning in his freshman year in high school, Grimm identified as male and started taking hormones. But after Grimm was initially allowed to use the boys bathroom, the school board passed a rule requiring transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex they had been assigned at birth. With the backing of the ACLU, Grimm filed suit, alleging that the policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools. Under the 14th Amendment, no state can deny “equal protection of its laws” to any of its citizens, with the ACLU arguing that forcing Grimm to use separate facilities stigmatized him and equated to sex-based discrimination. 

The then-Obama era Justice Department supported Grimm’s position and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Grimm’s favor in 2016. The Virginia school board appealed, with the Supreme Court agreeing to take up the case in 2017. But later that same year the Trump Administration revoked an Obama-era directive to schools banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity, so the Supreme Court sent the case back to the 4th Circuit for reevaluation. In 2020, the 4th Circuit ruled in Grimm’s favor again, and the Virginia school board once again promptly appealed. Finally, however, the Supreme Court declined to hear that appeal, leaving the 4th Circuit’s ruling intact and handing Grimm a final victory.

While the Supreme Court did not offer a reason behind its order, two conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented, indicating that they would have preferred to hear the case. 

While the Fourth Circuit’s ruling does not establish a national precedent and is limited to school policy in states in the mid-Atlantic region, there is still a sense of finality, with Grimm summing up the legal victory in a tweet:

Further legal challenges to barriers to trans rights are expected to head to the Supreme Court soon, including disputes over allowing transgender students to play on the school sports teams that match their gender identities. Such legal challenges bolster the fact that trans rights are human rights; by framing trans rights arguments around the fundamental right of transgender individuals to live and flourish in their communities—with freedom to learn, work, and play— without fear for their safety and survival, emphasizes the universality of such rights.  

Photo Credit:

“Gavin Grimm: A Civil Rights Hero” by Geoff Livingston is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“C.d. Kirven with the Trans Pride Flag while Get Equal flies the Bisexual & Rainbow Pride Flags” by Bisexual News and Views is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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