Gavin Grimm on the Trump Administration Blocking Trans Student Protections: 'There's a Lot of Frustrated People'
When the Trump administration chose to rescind guidelines that protected transgender students on Feb. 22, Gavin Grimm was disappointed, but not surprised. Instead, it was just another obstacle standing in the transgender teen’s way as he fights for the right to use the boys’ bathroom at Gloucester High School in Virginia.
“It was very frustrating, but it hasn’t, I don’t think, caused any of us to slow down or give up in any way,” the high school senior tells PEOPLE.
Grimm first came out as transgender to his accepting parents in April 2014, while he was in a home school program. But Grimm’s battle began when he enrolled in the public high school for his sophomore year. School administrators initially gave him permission to use the boys’ bathroom, until they reversed their decision seven weeks later after some parents complained. His options were now to use the girls’ bathroom, a single-stall unisex bathroom, or a restroom in the nurse’s office. Grimm, who declined the idea of transferring schools, chose instead to stand his ground and hold his bladder through the school day, while pushing back against the school board for the right to use the bathroom of his choice.
“It was important to me to stay,” he says. “I don’t want to get run out by nasty people and discrimination. For me, it’s the equivalent of giving up.”
Grimm plead his case to the Gloucester school board, but they voted 6-1 against him. With the help of the ACLU, he sued the school district in Virginia courts under the argument that the school’s bathroom rule discriminates based on gender, in violation of Title IX. Grimm earned a temporary victory when Virginia’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor in October, but it became short-lived when the Supreme Court elected to take on his case and placed a stay on the decision.
“It was kind of breathtaking. There was this moment of, ‘Oh my god, it’s going to dominate my senior year now too,’ ” Grimm says. “There was that moment of disappointment, and then once I adjusted to the idea, I realized it’s maybe not such a bad idea. I have a platform now and I have the opportunity to do good on a larger scale than I did before.”
His case now has the potential to legally grant transgender students the right to use the bathroom of their choice, and other protections that had previously only been written in guidelines provided by the Obama administration, nationwide.
“I think any decision, no matter how narrow, [in his favor] would be a huge relief for trans folks over the next four to eight years,” Joshua Block, Grimm’s lawyer and a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, tells PEOPLE.
But the guideline repeal added a new wrinkle to Grimm’s case, set to go in front of the Supreme Court on March 28. The letter from the Departments of Justice and Education argues that transgender rights should not be covered under Title IX, yet it does not revoke anything. It could have no baring on the case at all, or the Supreme Court could defer to the letter and throw out Grimm’s argument. Regardless of any legal effects, Grimm says the Trump administration reversal is a major step backwards for human rights.
“To have a government that’s sending this message to trans kids that you don’t deserve to be protected can be very upsetting for an already vulnerable population,” he says. “The mental impact that this can have is, in short, a detrimental one.”