Schools can’t prevent transgender students from using the restrooms that correspond with their gender identities without violating federal law, the Obama administration says.
The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice made that argument in a friend-of-the-court brief submitted late Wednesday in support of a Virginia teenager who is suing for access to the boys’ restrooms at his high school.
The government’s filing says a Gloucester County School Board policy that requires 16-year-old junior Gavin Grimm to use either the girls’ restrooms or a unisex bathroom constitutes unlawful bias under Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
The policy denies Grimm ‘a benefit that every other student at this school enjoys: access to restrooms that are consistent with his or her gender identity,’ lawyers for the two departments wrote. ‘Treating a student differently from other students because his birth-assigned sex diverges from his gender identity constitutes differential treatment on the basis of sex under Title IX.’
The administration’s position in Grimm’s case represents its clearest statement to date on a modern civil rights issue that has roiled some communities as more children identify as transgender at younger ages.
While not legally binding, it signals to school districts that may be wrestling with how to accommodate transgender students while addressing privacy concerns raised by classmates and parents which side of the debate they should take if they want to avoid a federal investigation.
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