By Lindsey Mattila (CMC ’17)
The Supreme Court announced last Friday that it will be examining a case this term on whether or not a transgender boy, Gavin Grimm, may use the boys’ restroom in a public high school in Virginia. For some time, the school allowed Gavin Grimm to use the boys’ restroom, but the school later reversed its opinion after the school board adopted a policy that required students to use bathrooms and locker rooms in line with their “corresponding biological genders.”[i] Although Grimm’s birth certificate indicates that he is biologically female, he had transitioned and legally changed his name in 2014.[ii] Grimm took his case to court. The district court sided against him, but the Fourth Circuit of Appeals sided with Grimm. Now the Supreme Court will take up the case.
Part of this controversial debate has stemmed from conflicting federal- and state-level ordinance. The Obama administration has released guidelines through the Department of Education stating that under Title IX, “sex discrimination” also prohibits gender identity discrimination.[iii] Many states, such as Virginia and North Carolina, argue that the federal government is overstepping its power by deciding for states how different laws should be interpreted. Almost half of all states have formalized their complaint by joining together to sue the Obama administration over the issue. This case involves many other legal disputes, but part of the issue is that the administration’s directives are not binding, giving states little legal power to sue.[iv] The larger issue is that the Obama administration is threatening to withhold federal funds in the event of noncompliance.[v] Fortunately, Grimm’s case could settle both simultaneously.
So, why do these states care so deeply about what bathrooms transgendered people use? Opposition fears a ruling in Grimm’s favor will allow the general public to abuse laws that allow the transgender community to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. Mike Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas, expressed his concern for how these laws would be abused by saying, “I wish that when I was in high school I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in P.E.”[vi] Opposition has proposed a separate but equal approach, asking that transgender individuals use private bathrooms separate from both genders. Grimm’s case proves this approach is inadequate as it has ostracized him even further in his hometown, making him a spectacle each time he chooses to use the restroom.[vii]
While the debate tends to be highly controversial, it is likely that the Court will be looking at a much drier and less controversial part of the argument. The court will probably examine whether or not the federal government is overstepping its jurisdiction by deciding the interpretation of Title IX. Many affected by the outcome, however, will be rooting for one that directly protects the transgender community.
If the Supreme Court decides to rule more specifically on whether or not gender identity is included in sexual discrimination laws, its decision will have a lasting impact on the way the transgender community is protected, or not protected, by legislation. If the Supreme Court rules that gender identity is indeed protected by sex discrimination laws under Title IX, then it will also be protected under sex discrimination laws that are within state legislation, the Civil Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act.[viii] This ruling will be decided just a year after the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, and the transgender community is hoping for an equally important win.
[i] Adam Liptak. “Supreme Court to Rule in Transgender Access Case.” The New York Times. October 28, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/29/us/politics/supreme-court-to-rule-in-transgender-access-case.html
[ii] Ariana de Vogue. “Supreme Court takes up transgender school bathroom case.” CNN. October 28, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/28/politics/supreme-court-takes-up-transgender-school-bathroom-case/
[iii] German Lopez. “Supreme Court to consider potentially landmark transgender rights case.” Vox. October 28, 2016. http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/10/28/13460684/supreme-court-transgender-bathrooms
[iv] Caitlin Emma. “10 more states sue Obama administration over transgender bathroom directive.” Politico. July 8, 2016. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/obama-transgender-bathrooms-states-sue-225303
[v] Caitlin Emma. “10 more states sue Obama administration over transgender bathroom directive.” Politico. July 8, 2016.
[vi] German Lopez. “Supreme Court to consider potentially landmark transgender rights case.” Vox. October 28, 2016.
[vii] Adam Liptak. “Supreme Court to Rule in Transgender Access Case.” The New York Times. October 28, 2016.
[viii] German Lopez. “Supreme Court to consider potentially landmark transgender rights case.” Vox. October 28, 2016.