A school board in Virginia has agreed to pay $1.3 million in legal fees to resolve a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former student whose efforts to use the boys’ bathroom put him at the center of a national debate over rights for transgender people.
Gavin Grimm’s battle with the Gloucester County school board began in 2014, when he was a sophomore and his family informed his school that he was transgender. Administrators were supportive at first. But after an uproar from some parents and students, the school board adopted a policy requiring students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms for their “corresponding biological genders.”
Mr. Grimm sued the school board. The legal battle pushed him into the national spotlight as Republican-controlled state legislatures introduced a wave of “bathroom bills” requiring transgender people to use public restrooms in government and school buildings that correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificates.
“We are glad that this long litigation is finally over and that Gavin has been fully vindicated by the courts, but it should not have taken over six years of expensive litigation to get to this point,” Joshua Block, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented Mr. Grimm, said in a statement on Thursday. Mr. Block added that he hoped that the outcome would “give other school boards and lawmakers pause before they use discrimination to score political points.”
The Gloucester County Public Schools superintendent’s office declined to comment, instead noting in a terse statement that the school board had “addressed” the request to pay Mr. Grimm’s legal fees.
In his own statement, Mr. Grimm said the school board had chosen a “costly legal battle” over providing him access to a safe environment. “I hope that this outcome sends a strong message to other school systems, that discrimination is an expensive losing battle,” he said.
The ACLU said the school board’s “degrading and stigmatizing policy” excluded Mr. Grimm even after he started receiving hormone therapy that altered his bone and muscle structure, deepened his voice and caused him to grow facial hair.
The harm continued after Mr. Grimm graduated, the group said: The school district refused to provide him with a transcript that matched his gender identity, so he had to provide colleges and potential employers with a transcript that identified him as female.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Grimm said he was hopeful about the progress that had been made, even as the debate over transgender rights has intensified.
“We’re making strides every single solitary day,” he said. “State by state, courtroom by courtroom, the right decisions are being made and trans equality is being upheld in the courts.”
A consequence of the increased visibility of transgender people, Mr. Grimm said, is that “detractors also gain visibility as they weaponize this in some sort of culture war to mobilize other political issues.”
The settlement was announced two months after the Supreme Court let stand a lower-court ruling in Mr. Grimm’s favor. A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled last year that the school board’s policy violated the Constitution and federal law. The Supreme Court gave no reason for declining to hear the school board’s appeal of that ruling.
The Supreme Court had agreed to hear an earlier appeal in Mr. Grimm’s case but dismissed it in 2017 after the Trump administration changed the federal government’s position on transgender rights. The Biden administration has since adopted policies protecting transgender students.
The central question in the case was whether Title IX, the federal law banning gender discrimination in schools that receive federal money, also prohibited discrimination based on gender identity.
Some supporters of transgender rights had hoped for a sweeping Supreme Court ruling that would grant new rights for transgender people. But Mr. Grimm welcomed the court’s rejection of the school board’s appeal as a victory.
“I am glad that my yearslong fight to have my school see me for who I am is over,” he said at the time. “Being forced to use the nurse’s room, a private bathroom and the girls’ room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education. Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”
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