Transgender student takes bathroom case to federal court

A Virginia high school student is challenging his school’s restroom policy as discriminatory, and a US Court of Appeals will hear arguments for his lawsuit Wednesday.

Steve Helber/AP/File
Gavin Grimm leans on a post on his front porch during an interview at his home in Gloucester, Va., Aug. 25. Gavin is a transgender student whose demand to use the boys' restrooms has divided the community and prompted a lawsuit.

A transgender high school student from Virginia is challenging his school’s restroom policy in court.

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., will hear arguments Wednesday in the lawsuit brought forward by Gloucester High School junior Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male.

Bathroom access has become central in the debate over how far schools and other public facilities should go to accommodate people who are transgender. Transgender advocates say that people should be free to use the restroom designated for whichever gender they identify with most. The Obama administration has come out in support of the practice and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued best practice guidelines that encourage employers to provide access to bathrooms that correspond to employees' gender identity:

All employees, including transgender employees, should have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.... Restricting employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity, or segregating them from other workers by requiring them to use gender-neutral or other specific restrooms, singles those employees out and may make them fear for their physical safety.

But opponents say that blurring the lines between gender designations for restrooms could make it easier for predators to access bathrooms of the opposite sex. Such concerns torpedoed a broad anti-discrimination bill in Houston in November.

In Virginia, the Gloucester County School Board’s restroom policy currently mandates that students use restrooms corresponding with their biological gender, or a private, single-stall restroom. Gavin was barred from using the boys’ restroom in 2014, and he is challenging the policy as stigmatizing and discriminatory.

Gavin's initial attempt at being granted a court injunction to allow his use of the boys’ restroom was denied last September in US District Court. Judge Robert G. Doumar ruled that Gavin did not submit “enough evidence to establish that the balance of hardships weigh in his favor,” and balanced his concerns against “privacy interests of the other students protected by separate restrooms.”

The US Department of Education and the Department of Justice released a statement in October supporting Gavin’s position, suggesting that schools with policies similar to Gloucester’s may be in violation of federal law.

The appellate court’s decision in Wednesday’s hearing is expected to come within weeks.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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