A Virginia school board has agreed to pay $1.3 million in legal fees to resolve a discrimination lawsuit brought by a former student whose efforts to use the boys’ toilets have left him at the center of a national debate about 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 told his school that he was transgender. Administrators were initially supportive. But after an outcry from some parents and students, the school board passed a policy requiring students to use the toilets and changing rooms for their “corresponding biological sexes.”
Mr Grimm sued the school board. The legal battle thrust him into the national spotlight when Republican-controlled state lawmakers introduced a wave of “bathroom bills” requiring transgender people to use public restrooms in government and school buildings that match the gender listed on their birth certificates.
“We’re pleased that this lengthy trial is finally over and that Gavin has been fully vindicated by the courts, but it shouldn’t have taken more than six years of expensive litigation to get to this point,” Joshua Block, a lawyer of the American Civil Liberties Union representing Mr Grimm said in a statement Thursday. Mr Block added that he hoped the outcome would “give other school boards and legislators a break before using discrimination to score political points.”
The Gloucester County Public Schools Inspector’s Office declined to comment, but noted in a succinct statement that the school board had “addressed” Mr. Grimm’s request to pay Mr. Grimm’s legal fees.
In his own statement, Mr Grimm said the school board had opted for an “expensive legal battle” to give him access to a safe environment. “I hope this outcome sends a strong signal to other school systems that discrimination is an expensive losing battle,” he said.
The ACLU said the school board’s “humiliating and stigmatizing policies” excluded Mr Grimm even after he began receiving hormone therapy that changed his bone and muscle structure, deepened his voice and caused him to grow facial hair.
The damage continued after Mr Grimm graduated, the group said: The school district refused to give him a transcript that matched his gender identity, so he had to provide colleges and potential employers with a transcript identifying him as a woman.
In an interview on Monday, Mr Grimm said he is hopeful about the progress made, even as the debate on transgender rights has intensified.
“We make progress every lonely day,” he said. “State by state, courtroom by courtroom, the right decisions are made and transequality is upheld in the courts.”
One consequence of the increased visibility of transgender people, Mr Grimm said, is that “adversaries also become more visible as they weaponize it in a kind of culture war to mobilize other political issues.”
The settlement was announced two months after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling in Mr Grimm’s favor. A divided panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled last year that the school board’s policies violated the Constitution and federal law. The Supreme Court has not given any reason not to consider the appeal of the school board against that decision.
The Supreme Court had agreed to an earlier appeal in Mr. Grimm’s case, but dismissed it in 2017 after the Trump administration changed the federal government’s stance on transgender rights. The Biden administration has since passed policies to protect transgender students.
The central question in the case was whether Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, also prohibited gender identity discrimination.
Some transgender rights supporters had hoped for a sweeping Supreme Court ruling granting transgender people new rights. But Mr Grimm welcomed the court’s rejection of the school board’s appeal as a victory.
“I’m glad my years-long struggle to get my school to show me for who I am is over,” he said at the time. “Being forced to use the nursing room, private bathroom and the girls’ room was humiliating for me, and having to go to remote toilets severely hampered my education. Trans youth deserve to go to the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”