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Transgender Teen Case to Be Heard in Court, 4th Cir. Rules

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 20, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gavin Grimm, the transgender teen at the heart of the bathroom controversy in North Carolina, successfully convinced the Fourth Circuit that his case should be heard in court.

Human rights groups have reacted approvingly to the decision, but North Carolina appears not to have moved and House Bill 2 in North Carolina appears to be moving forward despite some calls to repeal it.

School Bathroom Controversy

Gavin Grimm was born anatomically a female but gender identifies as male. It is his preference to use the boys' bathroom at his school over the girls' bathroom. His use of the boys' bathroom culminated in a controversy that involved concerned parents who voiced concerns about Grimm using the boys' bathroom. In 2015, the Gloucester County School Board voted to disallow Grimm from using the boys' bathroom after letting him use it for little under two months.

Grimm, the ACLU, and several human rights activists groups have couched the debate in terms of gender identity. The school board and other conservative groups have chosen to present the issue as one of "common sense" and protecting girls from boys, not as discrimination against transgender people.

District Court's Logic

A district judge in 2015 ruled in favor of the school board's actions and concluded that the applicable law under Title IX did not apply because suspect classifications include "sex" and not the class that Grimm had sought to promote as a basis: gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Circuit: Not So Fast

The Fourth Circuit was not convinced, however. It concluded that the lower court actually relied on an incorrect evidentiary standard in deciding whether or not to grant Grimm's injunctive relief request, ordering that the lower court give greater deference to the Department of Education regulations on the topic, specifically: "A school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity."

Fourth Circuit Judge Niemeyer dissented and said that the ruling misconstrues the clear language of Title IX and "reaches an unworkable and illogical result."

Since this issue is fundamentally about suspect classification implications, we suspect that it won't be long before it will be heard by SCOTUS. Until then, more controversy is sure to follow.

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