A Turning Point – But Not the Last
In the midst of the most politically hostile season in this century for transgender people, a ray of hope shown forth yesterday from the Fourth District Court of Appeals ruling in the matter of the Gavin Grimm case out of Gloucester County VA.
Time nor space allow me to elaborate on the seeming tsunami of anti-trans provisions passed or considered in states all over the country this spring, from Washington to Illinois to North Carolina to Mississippi to Tennessee to Kansas to South Dakota to Missouri and more. Whether it’s giving a blank check to job discrimination in Mississippi, or mandating anti-trans school policies in NC (and attempted in SD and TN) the national strategy, laid out by political strategists at the Family Research Council, has been frightening and sickening. But it’s not been fought just on the state level, as there have also bee firefights as local school boards either resisted or responded to pressure from ill-informed parents inflamed to irrational fear and anger by state level “family” groups associated with FRC, or AFA.
It’s from one of those school boards that the case of Gavin Grimm arises. Their are multiple good sources out there if you need a full account of Grimm’s case before going to court so I won’t go into exhaustive detail. I will let it suffice to say that Grimm, a FtM trans teen, had been using the men’s room without incident for most of a semester until meddling parents spooked the school board into over-riding the school’s decision and excluding him. The first judge who heard the case ruled improperly, in the opinion of the three judge panel that delivered the most recent ruling yesterday.
While the decision simply sends the case back for a continued hearing, their key finding has implications not just for the outcome of that case, or for the Fourth Circuit (of which NC is part) but for essentially EVERY case of trans discrimination you can think if. The reason for that is this passage:
“At the heart of this appeal is whether Title IX requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity,” the court’s opinion said. “We conclude that the Department’s interpretation of its own regulation .?.?. as it relates to restroom access by transgender individuals, is .?.?. to be accorded controlling weight in this case.”
This is massively significant reasoning. While it’s true that this decision is binding only on the Fourth Circuit, the judges made extensive legal foundation for their ruling which will serve as a primer for every pro-trans legal argument likely to appear. Moreover, the decision has implication beyond Title IX claims, but also inescapably would support Title VII claims related to employment as well. Here, too, a Federal Agency is charged with interpreting the laws it’s charged with eforcing and here, too, the current interpretation weighs in favor of trans people.
On top of all that, once courts begin to regularly find that trans people are legally the gender that they identify as, then many other legal impediments to trans people are obsolete, and acts of discrimination become much more actionable in court.
BUT – there’s always a “but” isn’t there? – a legal decision which defers to the interpretation of a law published by the Federal Agency connected with applying that laws is highly dependent on what that interpretation is. Which ultimately flows from the chief executive, at whose pleasure the Federal agent relevant to the matter serves. Put more bluntly, all this goes away if Ted Cruz becomes president (probably Trump or Kasich too). If you are happy with this outcome – and if not you’re probably reading the wrong site – then a Cruz presidency just got even more scary. Act appropriately in the coming months.
Read the Grimm decision here.
Image via Wikimedia Commons