NC bathroom law could be decided in Virginia
Published 7:28 pm Friday, April 1, 2016
By Larry O’Dell
RICHMOND, Va. — The fate of North Carolina’s new law aimed at restricting restroom use by transgender people could be determined in Virginia, where a school board has ordered a teenager to stay out of the boys’ room.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond could rule any day now in the case of Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male. Grimm says he has to take a “walk of shame” to use a restroom at Gloucester High School.
Whatever the judges decide, the impact will be far more sweeping than what Grimm envisioned when he challenged the policy last year.
“I did not set out to make waves — I set out to use the bathroom,” Grimm says.
North Carolina’s bathroom bill was unveiled, debated and signed into law in a single day last week, two months after the appeals court in Richmond heard arguments in Grimm’s case. But two workers and a transgender student at the University of North Carolina are making similar arguments as they seek a federal injunction preventing enforcement of the new law.
Among other things, the law directs public schools, public universities and government agencies to designate bathrooms and locker rooms for use only by people based on their biological sex, and says transgender people can only use bathrooms matching their gender identity if they’ve had their birth certificates changed, which in North Carolina usually requires sexual reassignment surgery.
Advocates on all sides will closely read the ruling, since U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, an appointee of President George W. Bush, will have to adhere to any precedents set by the appellate court, said Joshua Block, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing Grimm.
“One way or another, what happens in Gavin’s case is likely going to set the rules of the road for how the North Carolina case proceeds,” Block said.
Grimm alleges that school board policy requiring him to use girls’ restrooms or a single-occupancy unisex bathroom available to all students violates Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in public schools. He also says the policy denies him equal protection rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The North Carolina suit raises similar claims, alleging that transgender people who haven’t received a sex-change operation and changed their birth certificate can’t access their preferred restrooms, and are therefore treated unequally from non-transgender people.
Since Grimm’s trial judge has yet to decide constitutional issues, the appellate ruling will focus on the Title IX question and “won’t provide guidance about the constitutionality of the North Carolina law,” said Kevin Walsh, a University of Richmond expert in constitutional law.
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 restrooms that correspond with their gender identities amounts to sex discrimination under Title IX.
Grimm, 16, said he started refusing to wear girls’ clothes by age 6 and told his parents he was transgender in April 2014 — a year before Olympian athlete and reality TV star Bruce Jenner changed into Caitlin.
Grimm’s parents helped him legally change his given 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, and was allowed to use the boys’ rooms for the first few weeks of his sophomore year.
Then some parents complained, and the board voted 6-1 to restrict students with “transgender issues” to single-stall unisex facilities or restrooms corresponding to their biological sex. Grimm calls that stigmatizing. School officials say it protects the privacy of all students.