The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to reconsider a major transgender rights case, letting stand a lower court ruling that a Virginia school district acted unlawfully by refusing to let a transgender male use a bathroom at his high school in accord with his gender identity.
The justices decided not to hear an appeal from the Gloucester County School Board of a 2020 ruling by the federal appellate court, based in Richmond, that had gone against school officials and in favor of transgender student Gavin Grimm.
The court gave no explanation for the ruling. But two of its most conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, were in favor of hearing the case.
The ruling was a victory for sexual minority advocates. Grimm, who graduated in 2017, sued his school two years before that when it issued a policy to stop him from using a bathroom that corresponded to his gender identity.
The school instead told him to use a unisex bathroom, which Grimm said left him feeling “stigmatized and isolated.” His lawyers said the school board decision violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and a U.S. law that bans discrimination in schools on the basis of sex.
In 2016, the Supreme Court initially agreed to hear the case, after Grimm won a lower appeals court decision.
The administration of former President Barack Obama ordered schools not to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, but the administration of his successor, President Donald Trump, rescinded the order. With the Trump-era order in place, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appellate court for reconsideration, but it again ruled in Grimm’s favor.
The Gloucester school board sought a new Supreme Court consideration of the case after new U.S. President Joe Biden revoked the Trump administration policy that favored the school district.
In its petition seeking review of the appellate court decision, the Gloucester board said, “For school officials, as for parents, the question of how best to respond to a teenager who identifies with the opposite biological sex is often excruciatingly difficult. On the one hand, the teenager deserves and needs everyone’s compassion.”
But it added, “On the other hand, allowing the teenager to use multi-user restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities reserved for the opposite sex raises what this court has acknowledged to be serious concerns about bodily privacy — for the teenager and others.”
Grimm’s attorneys had asked the court not to hear the case, saying, “The undisputed evidence establishes that, by treating Gavin differently from other boys because he is transgender, the [school board] subjected Gavin to discrimination.”
“Excluding transgender students from common spaces based on the alleged discomfort of others ‘would very publicly brand all transgender students with a scarlet ‘T,’ and they should not have to endure that as the price of attending their public school,” Grimm’s lawyers said.
The high court decision to not consider the Virginia case again comes as numerous U.S. states consider transgender rights legislation. Several Republican-led states have moved to bar transgender girls from women’s sports teams.