Important Victory: 4th Circuit Rules in Favor of Transgender Student’s Right to Use the Restroom

By Adam Polaski • April 19, 2016 • 2:18 pm

Today, April 19, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in favor of a transgender high school student, who has been prohibited from using the boy’s bathroom – despite his male gender identity – by his school board. The discriminatory policy, the 4th Circuit ruled today, is in clear violation of the federal Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in schools receiving federal financial assistance. Congratulations to the ACLU and the plaintiff, Gavin Grimm, on achieving this important step forward in their case.


A Powerful Ruling

Judge Henry Floyd wrote in the ruling today, “The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.”

Read the full ruling from Equality Case Files.

Joshua Block, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project, which filed the case and has been working for nearly a year to make the case, said:

“Today’s Fourth Circuit decision is a vindication for Gavin and a reinforcement of the Department of Education’s policy. With this decision, we hope that schools and legislators will finally get the message that excluding transgender kids from the restrooms is unlawful sex discrimination.”

A powerful concurring ruling from Senior Judge Andre M. Davis highlighted the harm inherent in these anti-transgender policies. Judge Davis wrote, “The uncontroverted facts before the district court demonstrate that as a result of the Board’s restroom policy, G.G. experiences daily psychological harm that puts him at risk for long-term psychological harm, and his avoidance of the restroom as a result of the Board’s policy puts him at risk for developing a urinary tract infection as he has repeatedly in the past. G.G. has thus demonstrated that he will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction.”

Implications for North Carolina

The decision, which points to the United States Education Department’s current interpretation of policies that have explicitly granted transgender students the right to use the restroom aligning with their gender identity, marks a significant step forward. The 4th Circuit is now the highest court in the nation to ever rule on this question – and since the appellate court has jurisdiction over Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, West Virginia, and most pressingly North Carolina, it could have significant ramifications for anti-LGBT legislation.


In North Carolina last month, legislators passed House Bill 2, which blocks transgender people from using public restrooms, simply because of who they are. With this ruling – and a federal lawsuit challenging HB2 already filed in the courts by the ACLU, Lambda Legal and Equality North Carolina – HB2 clearly should be found unconstitutional. Governor Pat McCrory’s relentless defense of the law could cost the state around $4.5 billion in federal funding exactly because it contradicts the Title IX protections cited by the Fourth Circuit today – casting even more legal scrutiny onto the discriminatory and anti-transgender law.

Freedom for All Americans Executive Director Matt McTighe said today:

“The Fourth Circuit ruling affirms the obvious – that a transgender boy is a boy, and he belongs in the boy’s room with all the other boys. We congratulate Gavin for the bravery he’s shown in this fight, and thank him and the ACLU of Virginia for bringing this challenge. This ruling should serve as a warning to Governor McCrory and North Carolina’s legislative leaders, who continue to flout federal regulations in favor of advancing discrimination and spreading harmful lies about what it means to be transgender. They’ve already seen that there are severe economic costs to laws like HB 2, and they’re now on notice that there could be very real federal consequences as well.”

The Impact for Other States

The Fourth Circuit has jurisdiction over Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Some lawmakers in South Carolina are considering anti-transgender legislation, despite signals from Governor Nikki Haley that she does not want to see such a bill hit her desk – and the 4th Circuit ruling should send a strict message to the South Carolina Legislature.

McTighe continued in his statement:

“Today’s action should send yet another clear message to any lawmaker considering anti-transgender bills that there could be far-reaching repercussions to legislative schemes engineered for no other reason than harming transgender people. That’s why we must continue to fight discriminatory bills in every single state and lay a foundation for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections that ensure every is treated fairly and equally under the law.”

Just yesterday, an anti-transgender bill was tabled in Tennessee. Earlier this year, Republican legislators in Wisconsin chose not to advance a similar bill there, and in South Dakota, Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed an identical bill. It’s time for these anti-transgender bills limiting students’ ability to use the restroom must stop – and it’s time to fight forward and move toward full protections from discrimination.


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