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High Court Temporarily Blocks Transgender Student From Using Male Bathroom

Gavin Grimm speaks during an interview at his home in Gloucester, Va., in 2015.
Steve Helber
Gavin Grimm speaks during an interview at his home in Gloucester, Va., in 2015.

The U.S. Supreme Court is temporarily blocking a transgender male high school student in Virginia from using the boy's bathroom.

We've reported on the case of Gavin Grimm in the past. If you remember, Grimm scored a big victory when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his school in Gloucester County, Va., should have followed the federal government's interpretation of Title IX, which calls for schools to treat "transgender students consistent with their gender identity."

A lower court issued an injunction that put the school's policy on hold and would have allowed Grimm to use the boy's bathroom.

Lawyers for the Gloucester County School Board asked the Supreme Court to put that injunction on hold while they filed an appeal with the high court.

Yesterday, the court ruled 5-3 in favor of doing so, though Justice Stephen Breyer made it clear that he was joining the majority only "as a courtesy."

Joshua Block, an ACLU attorney who has been working on the Grimm case, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

"What is really sad," Block said, "is there's a good chance that even if Gavin wins this case, it's not going to come in time for him to actually" enjoy the victory while he's still in high school. Grimm, 17, will be entering his senior year in the fall.

The grant from the Supreme Court, said Block, essentially pauses the case and allows a policy that says boys and girls bathrooms are limited to "corresponding biological genders" to go into effect. The school is also providing a unisex bathroom that Grimm could use.

A petition for a writ of certiorari, or a petition for the court to hear the appeal, is due by Aug. 29, but the court might not hand down a yes or a no until October.

If the court denies the cert, the stay goes away. If it decides to hear the case, the stay remains in place until the court hears oral arguments and issues a decision.

"Whether someone thinks the underlying decision is right or wrong, what's disappointing is the notion that simply allowing someone to use the bathroom would result in a form of irreparable harm," Block said.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the school district welcomed the high court's action:

"Reached on vacation, School Board Chairman Troy Andersen said he was aware of the Supreme Court's decision but had not read it. He declined to comment.

"The School Board, through its attorney, issued a statement Wednesday evening saying it 'welcomes the Supreme Court's decision as the new school year approaches.'

"'The board continues to believe that its resolution of this complex matter fully considered the interests of all students and parents in the Gloucester County school system,' the board said in the statement."

One thing to keep in mind is that this case is not testing the constitutionality of policies that restrict bathroom use to biological sex. Instead, it is weighing whether excluding transgender kids from certain restrooms amounts to sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The dueling lawsuits filed by the federal government and North Carolina over that state's restroom restrictions are separate from this case.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.