WASHINGTON — In court papers, he's identified only as "G.G." But he's not anonymous anymore.
Gavin Grimm is the public face of the latest Supreme Court battle over a more familiar set of initials: LGBTQ rights. Like his lesbian and gay predecessors — people like Edie Windsor, whose lawsuit led to federal benefits for same-sex marriages, and Jim Obergefell, whose lawsuit struck down gay marriage bans nationwide — Grimm may be poised to make history.
He represents the "T" in LGBTQ, for transgender. At the tender age of 17, he is fighting for the right to use the boys' bathroom at Gloucester High School in southeast Virginia. If doing so leads to broader civil rights protections for transgender men and women, Grimm reckons, all the better.
Thus it was that on Saturday morning, as most of his peers prepared for a weekend of football games and parties, Grimm awoke in the nation's capital and prepared for what likely will be a publicity blitz unlike any he has experienced since suing the small-town school board 16 months ago.
His immediate family circle — mother, father, twin brother and pet pig — has grown to include the ever-present lawyers and staff of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing him in court.
“My life’s about to get a lot busier than I’m used to it being,” the soft-spoken senior said matter-of-factly. "Being a plaintiff in a Supreme Court case is a big deal."
The battle over so-called bathroom bills has played out in many states as conservative lawmakers seek to force students to use facilities that correspond to their gender at birth, and transgender students fight for the right to follow their gender identity. Twenty-three states, including North Carolina and Texas, have challenged the administration's right to interpret its own regulations on the issue without legislative action or judicial review.
Grimm actually is not the plaintiff before the Supreme Court but the respondent, reflecting his victory over the Gloucester County School Board at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in April. That verdict — followed by the Obama administration's directive that schools receiving federal funds allow transgender students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity — prompted the board to seek Supreme Court review.
In court papers, the school board noted that the federal law barring sex discrimination in education allows schools to provide separate restrooms and locker rooms on the basis of sex. "No one ever thought this was discriminatory or illegal," its petition seeking Supreme Court review says. "For decades, our nation's schools have structured their facilities and programs around the idea that in certain intimate settings, men and women may be separated 'to afford members of each sex privacy from the other sex.'"
The lower court's verdict, it contends, "turns that longstanding expectation upside-down."
When the court announced Friday that it would hear the case, Grimm's bathroom quest actually stalled. Had the justices turned down the case, his victory in the 4th Circuit would have been sealed. Now he has to wait until the high court rules — most likely after the school year ends.
“It would have been nice to spend less of my senior year worrying about where I’m going to be using the bathroom," he said. Instead, Grimm is eager to fight and win at the Supreme Court "to make sure that trans kids that come after me do not have to go through this experience.”
For Grimm, the experience of coming out transgender to his friends and family several years ago was traumatic enough. But when parents began to object to his use of the boys' bathroom during sophomore year and the school board ruled he must adhere to his "biological gender," the experience worsened.
“They sent a very clear message to my peers that I was something different" and "not fit for common spaces,” he said. Being forced to use a single-stall, unisex bathroom or the one in the nurse's office stigmatized him among other students.
“The damage is done, and it’s been done significantly, and there’s nothing that will ever change that," Grimm says of the school board's decision. For him, school has become an unsafe, unwelcoming environment.
"My favorite school activity," he said, "is leaving school."
While the focus of his case is on discrimination in education, the court's ruling could have a major impact on other forms of bias against transgender men and women, such as in employment, health care and housing. For Grimm, that makes it all the more worthwhile.
“No matter how difficult this has gotten for me, and it has gotten very difficult," he said, "there’s never been a single moment when I thought, 'Gee I wish I didn’t do this.'"