Last Friday, the US Supreme Court announced that it would take up Gavin Grimm’s case on transgender discrimination in school restrooms (The Washington Post, Oct. 28 2016). Gavin Grimm, a seventeen-year-old student that was female-born, identifies as male and has been taking therapeutic hormones since the age of fourteen to undergo his gender transformation. After his school board ruled that he was barred from using the boy bathrooms on campus, he was required to use specifically allocated unisex restrooms instead, prompting him to sue the school for its discriminatory requirement. The Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Grimm, but the Supreme Court has yet to finalize its ruling, which they have now announced will take place before June.
The crux of the case has shed light on a critical issue plaguing schools around the nation, namely the treatment of transgender students within academic settings. In his op-ed in the Washington Post on October 28th, Grimm outlined how the heightened focus of this case, coupled with the school’s discriminatory policy, have reinforced the stigma surrounding his transgender identity and escalated the degree of bullying and harassment he faces at school. Grimm outlines how he has felt compelled to change his behavior to minimize the humiliation of going to a separate, sometimes inconveniently located restroom. For example, he has resorted to drastically limiting his fluid-intake to reduce the number of times he has to go to the bathroom during the school day. This harmful behavior has induced several Urinary Tract Infections and demonstrated how his marginalization at school has had grave ramifications for his well-being.
Despite Grimm’s grievances, one of the primary objections behind transgender-friendly bathrooms in schools is the fear that it will pave the way for inappropriate or violent behavior (The Daily Wire, 22 April 2016). An article released in a local Virginia newspaper, where the case takes place, explores this fear by drawing on five reported cases of transgender violence in restrooms. This article pins the rationale of the school board’s policy on the notion that a transgender friendly policy will trigger a cascade of similar, violent cases.
The Gendered Education blog, touches on how education is traditionally “heralded as an equalizer” by providing all students with the same opportunities, tools for learning, and metrics for defining academic success (Hickman, 25 Sept. 2016). Nevertheless, Gavin Grimm’s case reveals the power that lies in the backbone of educational institutions and how they have the ability to shape a student’s capacity to learn. Adequate learning conditions thus encapsulate more than qualified teachers, robust learning materials, and a solid infrastructure; they should promote healthy, safe environments. Yet, how can schools balance their desire for equal treatment with their guarantee for non-violent or appropriate conducts in these restrooms? Education has the power to mold norms and shape an institutionalized policy, whether it be transgender-friendly bathrooms or lack thereof. The norm set in schools through the upcoming Supreme Court ruling could permeate into other areas of life. Further, this ruling could redefine what values are protected the umbrella-term “safe” academic settings.
Balingit, Moriah and Barnes, Robert. “Supreme Court Takes up School Bathroom Rules for Transgender Students.” The Washington Post, 28 Oct. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-takes-up-school-bathroom-rules-for-transgender-students/2016/10/28/0eece4ea-917f-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html. Accessed 3 Nov 2016.
Grimm, Gavin. “I’m Transgender and Can’t Use the Student Bathroom. The Supreme Court could Change That.” The Washington Post, 27 Oct. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/im-transgender-and-cant-use-the-student-bathroom-the-supreme-court-could-change-that/2016/10/27/19d1a3ae-9bc1-11e6-a0ed-ab0774c1eaa5_story.html?utm_term=.56642b4c371c. Accessed 3 Nov. 2016.
Hickman, Gabrielle. “Education For All: Let Girls and Boys Learn?” Gendered Ed Blog, 25 Sept. 2016. https://gendereded.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/girlsandboys/. Accessed 3 Nov. 2016.
Prestigiacomo, Amanda. “5 Times ‘Transgender’ Men Abused Women and Children in Bathrooms.” The Daily Wire, 22 April 2016. http://www.dailywire.com/news/5190/5-times-transgender-men-abused-women-and-children-amanda-prestigiacomo. Accessed 3 Nov. 2016.