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US Supreme Court Takes Transgender Rights Case

Students Should be Able to Use Facilities Consistent With Gender Identity

On Friday, the United States Supreme Court announced it will hear a case in its upcoming term that could help secure the rights of transgender students in schools.

At the center of the case is Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender boy in Virginia. When Grimm transitioned at school, administrators allowed him to use the boys’ restroom. After some parents and local residents learned of the arrangement and objected, however, the Gloucester County School Board enacted a policy that barred transgender boys from accessing boys’ facilities in the school. In response, Grimm went to court for an order that would allow him to use a bathroom consistent with his gender identity.

U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

As Grimm points out, the US Department of Education has taken the position that treating transgender boys differently from non-transgender boys is a form of sex discrimination prohibited under a provision of federal law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled for Grimm, and concluded that courts and schools should defer to the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX. Now, the school board is taking the case to the Supreme Court on appeal.

But as the case progresses, nothing prevents local schools from enacting non-discrimination policies that ensure all students have safe and accessible facilities. As Human Rights Watch has recently documented, barring transgender youth from bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity can jeopardize their safety, health, privacy, and ability to learn. Many schools have successfully adopted inclusive school policies that cut through the political fervor, respect students’ gender identities, and keep all youth safe and healthy.

All eyes are now on the Supreme Court. But regardless of how the court rules, it’s important to remember that local schools can make a big difference by respecting and protecting their transgender students like any other members of their community. 


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