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    Justice for Gavin Grimm

    marriageequalityGavin Grimm, a 16-year-old high school junior from Gloucester, Virginia, simply wants to be able to use his school’s restrooms as all his classmates can. But like LGBT couples who had to go to court just to be able to marry, Gavin has had to sue his school district for the right to use the boys’ room. A panel of the Fourth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals just held argument on key parts of his case and could issue a decision soon.

    The ACLU represents Gavin in court and through court filings we quote here, Gavin reveals his story. Although Gavin was born biologically female, he was aware from early on “that he did not feel like a girl.” By middle school age, Gavin had “acknowledged…to himself and to close friends” that he was male, and in the spring of freshman year he came out as transgender to his parents because the stress of hiding his gender identity was so overwhelming. Gavin’s distress was so severe he couldn’t attend school.

    With his parents’ assistance, Gavin started getting the professional treatment he needed from a psychologist experienced with gender dysphoria. The psychologist advised that Gavin should be able to live as a male and “should be treated as a boy in all respects, including with respect to his use of the restroom.” Gavin began hormone therapy and legally changed his name. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles approved Gavin’s being identified as male on state identification cards and driver licenses.

    At the beginning of sophomore year, Gavin and his mom let the school know what was going on and met with the principal and guidance counselor to explain that Gavin was a transgender boy and that, “consistent with his medically supervised treatment, he would be attending school as a male student.” Although Gavin initially consented to using a separate restroom located in the nurse’s office because he didn’t know how his classmates would react, Gavin “was pleased to discover that his teachers and the vast majority of his peers respected the fact that he is a boy and treated him accordingly.” He asked the principal to let him use the boys’ room, and the principal agreed. For the next seven weeks or so, things went fine, and he was using the boys’ room “without incident.”

    Then, parents and other adults got involved and made life miserable again for Gavin. After two horrific public meetings, the county school board adopted a policy resulting in Gavin being banned from “using the same restrooms as other boys” and exiling “him to single-stall, unisex restrooms that no other student is required to use.” Gavin and his parents attended the meetings to speak against the policy, but doing so meant that Gavin at age 15 had to come out as transgender to the entire community and the press, and to reveal publicly that he was the student at the center of the controversy.

    Among many accusations, speakers at the meetings “claimed that permitting transgender students to use the same restrooms as others would lead to teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections” and “cited the Bible and complained about ‘morality creep.’” One speaker called Gavin “a ‘freak’ and compared him to a person who thinks he is a dog and wants to urinate on fire hydrants.” Gavin was left feeling humiliated, as if he had “been turned into ‘a public spectacle’ in front of the entire community ‘like a walking freak show.’”

    At school, Gavin is now forced to use a bathroom separate from all the other students, branding him daily as separate and “other” from his fellow students. Gender dysphoria expert Dr. Randi Ettner described in court papers how each time Gavin is forced to use a bathroom separate from his peers—especially at age 15–16, where fitting in is immensely important to most teenagers—it deals him a “devastating blow…and places him at extreme risk for immediate and long-term psychological harm.”  Indeed, Gavin reports that he “limits the amount of liquids he drinks and tries to ‘hold it’” when he needs to go to the bathroom at school. Consequently, he has “repeatedly developed painful urinary tract infections and has felt distracted and uncomfortable in class.”

    The Fourth Circuit Appeals court decision will likely have a profound impact on Gavin’s life, and it could greatly affect the lives of transgenderederder people nationwide. Although Gavin’s case comes to the court at a relatively preliminary stage in the proceedings, the court’s decision could address the degree to which the U.S. Constitution and federal law protect against gender identity discrimination, and the case could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    We offer our support, respect, and admiration to Gavin and his parents. Gavin’s legal papers recount that at the school board meeting Gavin testified: “All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace.” After the January 27 court hearing, Buzzfeed News reported that Gavin acknowledged that “[a]t first I was terrified, then I realized I have a platform, and I am going to use that platform to help people.” Like so many LGBT leaders before him, Gavin appears to be finding his voice through his struggle and using his talents not just to make his own life better, but to improve the lives of others. Buzzfeed reports that after the hearing, his mother said that “we have learned through this process [Gavin]…is his best advocate, and we are proud to be his parents. We are proud of Gavin, too.

    Gavin’s case is G. G. v. Gloucester County School Board (No. 15-2056). You can follow updates on his case through Equality Case Files’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EqualityCaseFiles/

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed to making same-sex marriage legal throughout the U.S.