Appeals court rules on transgender bathrooms in schools case

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Appeals Court Sides With Transgender Student in Virginia Bathroom Case

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that public schools must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity, the first such decision of its kind.

The ruling is a victory for a Virginia high school student, Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male, has undergone hormone therapy, and has legally changed his name.

School officials were supportive and allowed him to use the boys' restrooms, but the school board later barred the school from making that accommodation.

Related: Transgender Bathroom Bill Fails in Tennessee Legislature

On Tuesday, by a 2-1 vote, a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond reversed a lower court decision that had been in favor of the school board.

"Tuesday's ruling says quite clearly that forcing transgender students to use the wrong restroom, one that doesn't accord with their gender identity, is sex discrimination," said the ACLU's James Esseks.

Photos from Grimm's case:

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Transgender student's battle divides rural Virginia town
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Appeals court rules on transgender bathrooms in schools case
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The decision is binding on the five states of the Fourth Circuit -- Maryland, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The court based its decision on a regulation issued by the Department of Education a year ago, interpreting the requirements of a federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits schools that receive federal funds from engaging in sex discrimination.

"A school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity," the federal regulation said. The appeals court ruled Tuesday that the rule is a reasonable interpretation of Title IX.

The school board, in Gloucester, a rural part of Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay, said Grimm could use a unisex bathroom, but he said it only worsened his anguish of being transgender. Barred from using the boys' restroom, he avoided using the restrooms at the school entirely and developed urinary tract infections, according to court documents.

Related: 'Don't vote for hate': Transgender teen asks to meet governor over 'bathroom bill'

The school board forced the high school to stop accommodating him after angry parents spoke out at two community meetings. One person called him a "freak," and several repeatedly referred to him as a girl or young lady.

Policies requiring schools to permit transgender students to use the bathrooms that conform to their gender identity have been enacted in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington.

But some states are taking a contrary position. North Carolina's legislature passed a law, signed by the governor last month, requiring transgender people to use the bathroom that correspondents to the sex they were born with. A similar measure was vetoed by South Dakota's governor.

See transgender bathroom law protests in North Carolina:

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Protests against North Carolina transgender bathroom law
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Appeals court rules on transgender bathrooms in schools case
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A display inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features books by authors who support the repeal of HB2 on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A sign next to the men's bathroom inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina denounces North Carolina's HB2 legislation on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A bulletin board inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features upcoming author visits and events scheduled for the bookstore on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
DURHAM, NC - MAY 10: The 'We Are Not This' slogan is posted at the entrances to Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Elaine Martin, right, listens as Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Joaquin Carcano, center, the lead plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. Joaquin was born a woman and is now a man. Simone Bell with Lambda Law is at left; Chris Brook with the ACLU is at right. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
TO GO AFP STORY BY BRIGITTE DUSSEAU - Transgender delegates Jamie Shier (L) and Janice Covington pose for photographs at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012. The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Wednesday that US President Barack Obama would move his acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena due to predictions of thunderstorms. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
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Tuesday's decision presumably blunts part of the force of the North Carolina law by prohibiting enforcement of the bathroom restriction in public schools.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters he had received word of the ruling in the Virginia case and is assessing how his state should respond.

"It's the federal government, very similar to the Charlotte government, forcing something...brand new standards that we've never seen before," he said on Tuesday. "However, as governor I will uphold my oath of office and respect these court rulings and make sure these court rulings are abided to."




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