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Supreme Court sends Va. transgender case back to lower court

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GLOUCESTER, Va. -- The Supreme Court on Monday sent a case involving a transgender high school student from Gloucester, Va. back to a lower court, a temporary setback for the student.

The decision comes in the wake of a change in policy by the Trump administration, which last month revoked Obama-era guidance on protections for transgender students in public schools.

Monday's announcement vacates a lower court's decision in the case of Gavin Grimm, a student who is seeking to use school bathrooms that align with his gender identity.

Monday's decision means the case will go back to a court of appeals and likely removes the possibility that the Supreme Court will hear it this term.

During a press conference Monday evening, Grimm said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision but called it a "detour," saying he is focused on the long term in a case that could set legal precedents.

"I don't think this signifies a loss or any sort of detrimental outcome. I think we're focused on moving forward like we have been so far.  You can't predict everything in a case, and I think this is just one example of that."

Grimm is currently a senior at Gloucester County High School.  He said Monday he never expected by the high court before his graduation later this year.

“For me, it’s more about the impact of trans kids that come after me, or kids that are currently in school who will be effected by this," Grimm said.

In a statement to CBS 6, Kyle Duncan, the attorney representing the Gloucester County School Board, said his client looks forward to "explaining why its commonsense restroom and locker room policy is legal under the Constitution and federal law."

"The Court’s decision to vacate the Fourth Circuit’s earlier ruling and send the case back to reconsider is the logical decision in light of the new administration’s policy to interpret federal law correctly," Family Foundation of Virginia president Victoria Cobb said. "It’s common sense that boys should not be given access to girls’ showers and locker rooms. No one should expect young girls to undress and be exposed to a member of the opposite sex in intimate settings like showers and locker rooms.

"Reasonable Virginians can find a way to accommodate a small number of students struggling with sexual identity without compromising the rights of every other child."

Grimm, 17, was born a female, but has the gender identity of a male.

In June 2016, a federal district court ordered the Gloucester County School Board to let Gavin Grimm use the same restrooms as other boys at his school.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia brought the lawsuit on behalf of Grimm, arguing that the school board’s policy, which segregates transgender students from their peers by requiring them to use “alternative, private” restroom facilities, violates the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination by schools.

The Trump administration’s reversal of Obama-era protections that allowed transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity has angered civil rights groups.

The change in position reignited the debate on whether guidance on transgender students’ use of bathroom and locker room facilities is a state or federal rights issue.

Here are a few questions and answers to help explain how we got here:

What was the Obama administration’s position?

Last year, the Education and Justice departments issued joint guidance directing schools to let transgender students use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The letter to school districts and colleges that receive federal funding was based on the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools.

But whether Title IX protections extend to a person’s gender identity depends on whom you ask. Though many states have laws consistent with the guidance, lawmakers and educators criticized the directive, saying it was federal overreach that threatened the safety and privacy of non-transgender students.

The United States has 150,000 transgender youth between ages 13 and 17, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute.

Why did the Trump administration revoke the directive?

In a two-page letter to public schools, the Trump administration said the Obama-era directive did not provide “extensive legal analysis” of how its position was consistent with Title IX. The letter cited “significant litigation” caused by the guidance, showing the need for “due regard” of the role of states and local school districts in shaping education policy.

“As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level,” the White House said in a statement. “The joint decision made today by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education … paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators.”

What were the states’ reactions to the guidelines?

Officials in some states and cities, including Colorado, Iowa, Oregon, Washington state, San Francisco, New York City and the District of Columbia, consider denying transgender people the right to use a gender identity-appropriate restroom a violation of discrimination laws, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU adds that in some cities, such as San Francisco, transgender people should not have to prove their gender to gain access to a public restroom unless others have to show an ID to use that restroom.

 

What has been the reaction to the new guidelines?

The issue has sparked a fiery debate, with supporters of Obama’s guidelines applauding federal protections for transgender students while critics slammed them as overreach.

The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, welcomed the new guidelines.

“The Trump administration’s reversal of this mandate on schools is a victory for parents, children and privacy,” council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.

“The Obama administration resorted to this coercive policy because they knew parents and schools could never be persuaded to force boys and girls to shower together, stay together on school trips, and use the same locker rooms and bathrooms. As it turned out, the persistence of parents was far stronger than the government’s power of coercion.”

Civil rights groups quickly pointed out that Wednesday’s announcement does not undo Title IX or state-level protections for transgender students.

“While it’s disappointing to see the Trump administration revoke the guidance, the administration cannot change what Title IX means,” said ACLU attorney Joshua Block, lead counsel for Grimm.