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HRC Hails Historic Federal Court Decision Upholding Civil Rights Protections for Trans Students

by Ianthe Metzger April 19, 2016

HRC hailed today’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the U.S. Department of Education’s assertion that federal civil rights laws protect transgender students from discrimination.

In a 2-1 decision, the court affirmed the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 as protecting transgender students from discrimination, including allowing them to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The ruling came in the case of Gavin Grimm, a 16-year-old high school student and transgender teen, whose lawsuit against Virginia’s Gloucester County School District alleges the district violated Title IX by denying him use of  the boy’s restroom.

“Today’s historic decision is not only a victory for Gavin, but for all transgender young people who are being targeted by discriminatory actions -- including North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s anti-transgender HB2 law,”said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “This ruling not only gives appropriate deference to the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX as allowing transgender students to use school restrooms consistent with their gender identity, it also is binding in the state of North Carolina. We therefore expect public schools, including those in North Carolina, to immediately comply, ensuring transgender students full protections under the law, which includes full access to the appropriate facilities.”

While today’s ruling guarantees  protections for transgender students in North Carolina, it does not address the other  discriminatory provisions contained in HB2. As a result, HRC continues to call for full repeal of the discriminatory HB2 law, which also prevents transgender youth and adults from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity in all government-owned buildings, including in libraries, major airports, and convention centers. HB2 also eliminated existing municipal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people and prevents such protections from being passed by cities in the future.  Further, HB2 revokes the ability to sue under state employment non-discrimination law on the basis of any protected characteristic, including race, religion, national origin, and sex. Lawmakers passed the legislation in a hurried, single-day session, and Governor McCrory quickly signed it into law in the dead of night.

The discriminatory law is already facing a legal challenge, and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said he will refuse to defend it in court.

The ruling comes as a number of states -- most recently South Carolina -- have introduced legislation attacking transgender students by preventing their access to appropriate restroom and other facilities in schools. Last month, North Carolina became the first state in the country to enact a law attacking transgender students, even after similar proposals were being rejected across the country -- including a high-profile veto by the Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota. Just yesterday, the sponsor of a similar bill in Tennessee announced plans to pull the discriminatory legislation from consideration this year, after outcry from tens of thousands of fair-minded Tennesseans; major national child welfare, medical, and education groups; country music stars; and major business leaders. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Attorney General Slatery had also expressed concerns about the state losing millions of dollars in federal funds.

Today’s ruling by the Fourth Circuit affirms that school districts denying transgender students access to bathrooms consistent with their gender identity are in direct violation of Title IX.  That’s true of the Virginia district that has been discriminating against Grimm, and it is true of any school that chooses to comply with HB2 in North Carolina, which is also in the Fourth Circuit.  HB2 subjects schools to massive liability, and it puts an estimated $4.5 billion of federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education at risk, as well as  other funds a school may receive from another federal source.

Ianthe Metzger
Ianthe Metzger


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