Transgender Teen from Virginia Becomes Focus of National Debate

Jan 26, 2016

A legal battle that began in a Gloucester, Virginia high school will be heard Wednesday in Richmond by a federal appeals court.

In question: whether a local school board can prohibit a transgender student from using the restroom of their choice.

The answer could guide school systems nationwide.

Gloucester High School student Gavin Grimm in a photo from August 2015.
Credit The Associated Press

16-year-old Gavin Grimm has attended local school board meetings, and no wonder, those meetings have been about him.

Born biologically female, Grimm came out as a transgender male during his sophomore year. School administrators gave him permission to use the boy's restroom, and for weeks, nobody objected.  Then parents found out.

Parents, like Karen Pauley, packed two school board hearings to object.

"If he has had a gender change, sex change, that’s fine,” said Pauley. "But right now when our young men are in the bathroom for privacy reasons, when there are urinals. He has no right, or she has no right, to use a bathroom where the men are exposed. That makes them uncomfortable, it makes me uncomfortable.”

Grimm himself attended the meetings, sitting in silence as people like Don Mitchell stood up to talk about safety, privacy, and the definition of gender.

“You do not have an inalienable right to choose your own sex, nature’s God choose it for you,” said Mitchell to murmurs of agreement from the audience.

Grimm told the school board and the crowd that the conversation was bullying.

“All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace and I have had no problem from students to do that, only from adults,” Grimm said. "The adults are the only people who have been trying to restrict my rights.”

The result was a 6-1 vote, barring Grimm from the boy’s bathroom. Instead, he was told to use a unisex restroom.

That’s the policy that Grimm and the ACLU are appealing in court. The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have both filed briefs in support of their case. 

Grimm’s lawyer, Gail Deady, says the school board has violated his civil rights and put him at risk for harassment by fellow students.

Credit The Associated Press

“It’s incredibly stigmatizing to have the school board, adults, say ‘Something is wrong with you, you’re weird, you’re wrong, you can’t be in a room, in a restroom with everyone else,’” Deady said. “‘We can’t trust you in the restroom with the rest of the real boys, you have to go in this separate restroom.' That is the problem here.”

It’s a problem boards of education nationwide are having to deal with.

California, Colorado, and Massachusetts — among other states -- require their schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with, but Virginia has no statewide policy.