Supreme Court Decides to Enter Transgender Bathroom Debate

Justices may stop short of settling issue nationwide

The Supreme Court will hear an appeal in the case involving a transgender boy who challenged his school district policy that prevented him from using the boy's restroom at his high school. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to step into the heated social debate about whether schools should allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice — but the justices could stop short of settling the issue nationwide.

The justices announced that they will hear an appeal in the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who challenged a Virginia school district policy that prevented him from using the boys’ restroom at his high school.

[Obama Administration Transgender Bathroom Policy Blocked]

The Supreme Court’s move puts on hold a lower court order that sided with lawyers for Grimm and the Obama administration and struck down the Gloucester County School Board policy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in April that the school board’s policy violates Title IX of a 1974 federal anti-discrimination law.

The case is the first of several across the country to reach the justices on the issue of laws about which bathrooms transgender people can use — an issue that quickly has become the next front in the legal battle over civil rights. The court is expected to have oral arguments early next year, making it the highest-profile case of the Supreme Court term that ends in June. Educators, civil rights groups, states and members of Congress already weighing in with briefs.

“I never thought that my restroom use would ever turn into any kind of national debate,” Grimm, a senior at Gloucester High School, said in a written statement Friday released via the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing him. “The only thing I ever asked for was the right to be treated like everyone else.”

The case centers on a compelling fundamental question: Should the definition of “sex” in the anti-discrimination statute include “gender identity"? The statute says that schools can have separate facilities and programs on the basis of sex for certain intimate settings such as toilets, locker rooms and shower areas. Gender identity is an individual's internal sense of gender that can be different from the person’s sex assigned at birth.

The Obama administration says yes, but Texas led a coalition of states that disagree and filed a lawsuit over a similar administration policy. A law about transgender bathroom use in North Carolina has sparked a challenge from the Justice Department and boycotts of the state from sports organizations and businesses.

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