Gavin Grimm May Not Have Won His Case, but He's Made Civil Rights History

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 10, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gavin Grimm just wanted to use the bathroom, but he ended up become the face of transgender civil rights. Grimm, a transgender student in Virginia, sued his school board after it refused to allow him to use the bathroom that matched his gender identity. He won a landmark victory in the Fourth Circuit and was on his way to the Supreme Court when the Trump administration repealed protections for students like Grimm, essentially ending his case.

Now Grimm's legal battle (and his high school years) are winding down. But even though his lawsuit didn't result in a conclusive victory, Grimm remains a civil rights hero, according to judges on the Fourth Circuit.

A Journey "Delayed but Not Finished"

Two Fourth Circuit judges expressed their admiration for the teenage activist in a concurrence to an unopposed motion vacating the preliminary injunction they had granted more than a year ago, an injunction ordering Grimm's school to treat him in accordance with his gender identity.

Lamenting that Grimm's case would not be resolved conclusively, Judge Andre M. Davis, his sentiments joined by Judge Henry Franklin Floyd, wrote a concurrence saying that Grimm had understood, "intuitively, what the law has in recent decades acknowledged: the perpetuation of stereotypes is one of the many forms of invidious discrimination."

As Judge Davis noted, Grimm's suit was "about much more than bathrooms." It was about equal treatment, the rights of transgendered people, the recognition of a shared humanity, and a larger movement "that is redefining and broadening the scope of civil and human rights so that they extend to a vulnerable group that has traditionally been unrecognized, unrepresented, and unprotected."

Grimm joins the likes of civil rights pioneers who had challenged the country's "long and ignominious history of discriminating against our most vulnerable and powerless," Judge Davis wrote, grouping the teen alongside Dred Scott, Fred Korematsu, Linda Brown, Mildred and Richard Loving, Edie Windsor, and Jim Obergefell.

These individuals looked to the federal courts to vindicate their claims to human dignity, but as the names listed above make clear, the judiciary's response has been decidedly mixed. Today, G.G. adds his name to the list of plaintiffs whose struggle for justice has been delayed and rebuffed; as Dr. King reminded us, however, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." G.G.'s journey is delayed but not finished.

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