SCOTUS prepares to hear case on transgender bathroom use for the first time

On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that for the first time ever, SCOTUS will hear a case on transgender bathroom rights. The court will rule on the question of whether transgender students are entitled to use bathrooms matching their gender identity instead of the sex listed on their birth certificates, a controversial issue ever since March, when North Carolina passed HB2, banning transgender people from using public restrooms correlating with their gender identity.

In its next term, the Supreme Court will hear the case of 17-year-old Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy from Virginia who sued his school board last year after it blocked him from using the boys’ bathroom at his school. Grimm, who is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, initially lost his case when it was heard by his district court, only for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in his favor and send his case back to the district court to hear again, which temporarily allowed Grimm to use the boys’ restroom while it reevaluated his case.

But in July, the school board submitted an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court, additionally asking for Grimm to be blocked from the boys’ bathroom once again, at least until the district court released its ruling. In August, the Supreme Court granted the school board this, and Grimm will be banned from using the boys’ restroom until the case is resolved.

A timeline detailing when the Supreme Court will begin hearing the case has yet to be released.

Grimm argues that the school board’s bathroom policy discriminates against him and all transgender people, violating Title IX, the civil rights law that bans discrimination on the basis of gender in schools.

That the Supreme Court agreed to ban Grimm from using the boys’ restroom until the resolution of the case is more than a little unsettling, but for its own part, the Obama administration has come out in support of Grimm. In May, Obama warned public schools they could lose federal funding should they discriminate against transgender students and ban them from the bathrooms correlating with their gender identities.

But this was met with a deeply contentious response: 23 states sued the Department of Education over Obama’s directive, arguing that Title IX only applies to biological gender discrimination and not gender identity discrimination. These states, as well as most opponents of transgender individuals’ right to use the bathroom, also argue that trans students using the bathrooms of their choice violates the privacy rights and safety of other children.

Of course, not only do these arguments misrepresent the reality of the situation and demonize transgender youth, but they ultimately reduce them to second-class citizens by stripping them of the basic human right to defecate in a restroom where they feel most safe. After all, transgender people are statistically far more likely to be abused and harassed in a bathroom that does not correlate with their gender identity than they are to abuse and harass cisgender people in a bathroom that does correlate with their gender identity.

Doctors diagnosed Grimm, who was born female, with gender dysphoria in 2013 and recommended that he live and be respected as a boy, Mother Jones reports. It’s worth noting that cases of gender identity and dysphoria are often complicated and don’t always involve doctors, diagnoses, and various procedures that people of lower socioeconomic status can’t always afford.

For his own part, Grimm has expressed disappointment with the fact that his right to use a bathroom he feels safe in has to be decided by the Supreme Court in an op-ed for The Washington Post. “If you told me two years ago that the Supreme Court was going to have to approve whether I could use the school restroom, I would have thought you were joking,” Grimm wrote. He continued: “I hope the justices can see me and the rest of the transgender community for who we are—just people—and rule accordingly.” link

“I feel the humiliation every time I need to use the restroom and every minute I try to ‘hold it’ in the hopes of avoiding the long walk to the nurse’s office,” he added.

One anecdote in particular highlighted the emotional and psychological toll discriminatory, dehumanizing bathroom policies can have on transgender students who, like all teens, have enough academic and social anxiety to deal with as is. At a school football game, Grimm recalled how “suddenly a night out with friends was marred by the realization that someone was going to have to take [him] to a gas station if [he] needed to use the restroom.”