The Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a lower court order that would have allowed a transgender boy in Virginia to use the boys’ bathroom at his school when he returns for classes in September.
The student in question is 17-year-old named Gavin Grimm who was born female but identifies as male. After he was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2014, doctors recommended that he live and be treated like a boy. For about two months, his school allowed him to use the boys’ bathroom, but after receiving complaints from parents, his school board adopted a policy that prevented him from doing so.
On Wednesday, in a 5-3 order, the justices temporarily blocked Grimm from the boys’ bathroom while the Supreme Court considers whether to take up a case concerning the Virginia school board’s policy. If the justices agree to hear the case, it would be the first time the Supreme Court has weighed in on the question of whether trans students should be allowed to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, rather than the sex listed on their birth certificates. Twenty-three states are currently suing the Obama administration over a guidance from the Department of Education that says it’s discriminatory to block transgender kids from bathrooms of their choice.
With help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Grimm sued the Gloucester County school board in June 2015, arguing that its policy blocking him from the boys’ bathroom violated Title IX, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding. Grimm initially lost his case in district court, but in April this year, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, kicking the case back to the district court and urging it to respect the Obama administration’s guidance. The district court then granted an injunction allowing Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom.
In July, the Virginia school board filed an emergency appeal with Chief Justice John Roberts to put the district court case on hold until the justices determine whether they will review the appeals court decision. The school board also asked Roberts for permission to prevent Grimm from using the boys’ bathroom when school resumes, arguing that parents might otherwise pull their kids out of school.
The Supreme Court agreed on both counts. In a concurring statement, Justice Stephen Breyer said he agreed to temporarily block the lower court order as a “courtesy” because the high court was on recess until October. “Granting a stay will preserve the status quo,” he wrote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented.
“We are disappointed that the court has issued a stay and that Gavin will have to begin another school year isolated from his peers and stigmatized by the Gloucester County school board just because he’s a boy who is transgender,” ACLU senior staff attorney Joshua Block wrote in a statement. “We remain hopeful that Gavin will ultimately prevail.”