NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A federal judge has ruled that a Virginia school district engaged in “sex stereotyping” by not allowing a female student who identifies as male to use the boys’ restroom.
U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, appointed to the bench by then-President Barack Obama, declined on Tuesday to declare as moot the legal challenge filed in 2015 by a former Gloucester High School student who goes by the name Gavin Grimm.
The case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, had been sent back to the federal district court last August by the Fourth Circuit court of Appeals to determine “whether this case has become moot by reason of Grimm’s graduation.”
Instead of Wright Allen dismissing the case, as per the request of the Gloucester County School Board, she ordered both sides to enter into a settlement phase.
“The board’s argument that the policy did not discriminate against any one class of students is resoundingly unpersuasive,” she wrote. “[P]reventing … Grimm from using the boys’ restrooms did nothing to protect the privacy rights of other students, but certainly singled out and stigmatized … Grimm.”
Wright Allen opined that the school district could have employed a “non-discriminatory and more effective manner than barring … Grimm from using the boys’ restrooms.”
“The policy classified … Grimm differently on the basis of [her] transgender status and, accordingly, subjected [her] to sex stereotyping. The Equal Protection Clause protects Mr. Grimm from impermissible sex stereotypes—just as Title IX does, for the reasons articulated previously—and the court need only find that the board’s policy demonstrated sex stereotyping under the Equal Protection Clause,” she concluded.
As previously reported, four years ago, while a student at the school, Grimm was directed to use the nurse’s restroom after she began identifying as a boy, and did so for a time. However, she soon decided that she would rather use the boys’ restroom.
“The nurse’s office is at least a three minute walk from the class I have closest to it. It took a substantial amount of time out of my class time, and it was embarrassing,” Grimm told reporters in 2014. “When you’re gone for 15 minutes at a time to use the bathroom, what are high schoolers gonna think? It’s humiliating and it’s alienating.”
She therefore spoke to the principal about the matter, who suggested that Grimm go ahead and use the men’s restroom since she identifies as a boy. But some of the parents of the male students soon learned about the allowance, and the issue turned up before the school board.
Due to the concerns of parents, the board voted to approve a policy requiring students to utilize the restroom that correlates with their biological gender, or to use a private bathroom. In response, Grimm sued the Gloucester County School Board with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in an effort to overturn the policy.
After a district court judge ruled in favor of the school district and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Grimm, the matter was fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which initially agreed to hear the case. However, after the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era restroom directives in February 2017, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Fourth Circuit and also vacated the appeals court’s ruling, advising the panel to revisit the decision.
The Fourth Circuit then remanded the matter back to the district courts to determine whether the legal battle was moot since Grimm had graduated from high school.
Grimm called Wright Allen’s ruling a “relief” on Tuesday.
“After fighting this policy since I was 15 years old, I finally have a court decision saying that what the Gloucester County School Board did to me was wrong and it was against the law,” she said in a statement released by the ACLU.
The Gloucester County School Board continued to stand its ground.
“The school board is aware of the district court’s decision denying the motion to dismiss [Grimm’s] amended complaint,” officials said in a statement. “The school board continues to believe that its resolution of this complex matter fully considered the interests of all students and parents in the Gloucester County school system.”