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Federal Court Rules In Favor Of Transgender Student In Restroom Case


The first time Gavin Grimm was on this program, he was a high school junior. He's transgender. And he sued the school board after they prohibited him from using the boy's restroom at his public school in Gloucester, Va.


GAVIN GRIMM: I'm not unisex. The alternative facility was a unisex bathroom. I'm not unisex. I'm a boy. And there's no need for that kind of ostracization.

SHAPIRO: Gavin's case has spent four years in the courts. And in the meantime, he graduated from high school and became a nationally recognized LGBT figure. This week, a federal judge in Virginia ruled in his favor, saying the school board discriminated against Grimm on the basis of sex.

Gavin Grimm, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

GRIMM: Thank you very much. I'm happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: How did it feel to get this ruling?

GRIMM: It was, of course, exciting. We had known for a while that it could come any day now. But I didn't have any expectations for what we might hear. And so to get positive news was just really fantastic.

SHAPIRO: Any word on whether the school board intends to appeal?

GRIMM: I don't know whether or not the school board intends to appeal. But we'll keep fighting if we have to.

SHAPIRO: The judge has ordered you and the school board to have settlement talks. You're no longer a student at the school. So what are you fighting for in this case?

GRIMM: The court case graduated from being about my interests almost as soon as it started. I hope that this will set a positive legal precedent that will aid other trans students in guiding their schools to better support them.

SHAPIRO: Gloucester, Va., where you grew up, is a relatively rural, relatively conservative part of the state. Do you think this case changed things in Gloucester even before this ruling, just by having the debate?

GRIMM: I don't know if I changed many hearts or minds in Gloucester. But the fact that I even was able to have a court case speaks volumes to the progress we have made in this nation. And the fact that we can have this discourse, the fact that we can have this debate - no matter how ugly it can be - speaks to the change that's coming.

SHAPIRO: You brought this case when Barack Obama was president. And now President Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos, says the Education Department will no longer investigate civil rights complaints from transgender students regarding bathroom access. Yesterday, she testified to the House Education and Workforce Committee, and she said courts have given conflicting rulings. Here's part of her testimony.


BETSY DEVOS: Until the Supreme Court opines or until this body takes action, I am not going to make up law from the Department of Education.

SHAPIRO: Gavin Grimm, what do you think this means for a student like you who is a few years younger, coming through high school now?

GRIMM: I think that there is no ambiguity to the fact that this is explicitly dangerous to the lives of trans students. Saying that you will not investigate claims about discrimination is saying that you don't care about them, you don't think that they deserve to be protected and that you don't recognize, as well, their unique concerns and challenges in the school environment.

SHAPIRO: Explain what you mean when you say this is explicitly dangerous. What specifically is the danger?

GRIMM: It's explicitly dangerous to not protect trans youth in schools because they are an incredibly vulnerable minority. The suicide attempt rates are astronomically higher than the general population. And to feel completely alone and without options and to feel that helpless and unheard - I can't even imagine what detrimental effect that that can have on the ability for trans youth in schools to feel safe.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about your next step. I know you took some time off after you graduated from high school. You've moved to the West Coast. And you're going to start college in the fall?

GRIMM: Yes, I am working in the world of activism. I've been traveling to get my message out. And I'm also, at the same time, preparing to become a student again.

SHAPIRO: Well, Gavin Grimm, good luck in your next adventure in college. Thanks for talking to us again.

GRIMM: Of course. Thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: Gavin Grimm is a transgender teen who sued his school board for the right to use the boy's restroom. And yesterday, a federal judge ruled in his favor.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSE GONZALEZ'S "INSTR.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.