RICHMOND, Va. -- A policy barring a transgender student from using the boys' restrooms at his Virginia high school is discriminatory, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
In a case closely watched by public schools and transgender-rights activists across the country, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Gloucester County School Board's policy. A federal judge had previously rejected Gloucester High School student Gavin Grimm's sex discrimination claim.
Transgender rights have become the latest civil rights battleground issue across the country after the Supreme Court laid to rest the gay marriage debate when it ruled last year that same-sex couples had the right to marry. The issue was thrust further into public consciousness in 2015 when Olympic athlete and reality TV star Bruce Jenner disclosed his transgender identity and name change to Caitlyn Jenner.
The appeals court's ruling establishes legal precedent in every state in the 4th Circuit, including North Carolina, which faces a lawsuit challenging a new state law requiring transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificate. The sweeping law, which also barred cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances like one recently passed in Charlotte, has prompted a national backlash. Businesses and politicians have announced boycotts of North Carolina, and legal challenges ensure that the wedge issue will dominate Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's re-election campaign.
Other states in the 4th Circuit are Maryland, West Virginia and South Carolina.
Grimm was born female but identifies as male. He was allowed to use the boys' restrooms at the school for several weeks in 2014. But after some parents complained, the school board adopted a policy requiring students to use either the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender or a private, single-stall restroom.
Grimm called the policy stigmatizing. School officials said the policy respects the privacy of all students.
The U.S. Justice Department filed a "statement of interest" in Grimm's case in July, declaring that failure to allow transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity amounts to sex discrimination.
Grimm, 16, said he started refusing to wear girls' clothes by age 6 and told his parents he was transgender in April 2014.
Grimm's parents helped him legally change his name, and a psychologist diagnosed him with gender dysphoria, characterized by stress stemming from conflict between one's gender identity and assigned sex at birth. Grimm began hormone treatment to deepen his voice and give him a more masculine appearance.