The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is slated to hear a case on Mar. 28 that could have profound and long-standing implications for the rights of transgender Americans.
Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old who took on the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia over the right to use the public school restroom that corresponds with his gender identity, has become an icon in the queer community. He will appear before SCOTUS next month, along with the ACLU, to argue his case and is receiving high-visibility support from people across the country -- including Laverne Cox on stage at the Grammy's on Sunday night.
In conjunction with his upcoming SCOTUS case, 37 educators from the Trans Teachers Network have signed an open letter of support for Grimm and trans students across the nation affirming their right to use the bathroom that best corresponds with their gender identity.
"The Gloucester County School Board has failed Gavin Grimm," the educators wrote in the letter. "By responding to Gavin’s earnest request for basic respect by expelling him from communal school bathrooms, the Gloucester County School Board is effectively communicating that he does not belong with other children. We are deeply disturbed by this."
Read the full letter below and then head to the ACLU's website to learn more about Grimm's case.
Gavin Grimm has spent the majority of his high school years fighting for his right to use a restroom. Since Gavin was a sophomore, his body has been the subject of what has now become a national debate over where transgender people should be allowed to share space with their peers. For most children in America’s public schools, conversations about when and where to use the restroom are limited to preschool and kindergarten. As any good kindergarten teacher will tell you, it is crucial to have these conversations with the utmost respect for children’s bodies and their needs. At seventeen, a time when most young people are already faced with complex and weighty decisions as they transition into adulthood, Gavin Grimm’s school does not trust him to make a choice that most children in public schools are given at the age of five or younger. Furthermore, his request to use the restroom that is consistent with his gender has been met with humiliation by his peers and the adults in his community.
We represent a group of over one hundred transgender teachers in the United States. As teachers, our utmost priority is that our students are able to succeed in school and thrive in the world. We know how easily roadblocks can impede our students’ ability to thrive: language differences, bullying, lack of transportation access, confusion in class, friendships, and navigating relationships. We refuse to sit by and allow another roadblock to be created for transgender students.
As teachers who are trans and/or gender non-conforming, we are in a unique position to identify and describe the obstacles that transgender people face in schools, ranging from anxiety and fear about bathroom access, to bureaucratic challenges in changing identity documentation, to bullying and harassment by peers and adults alike. The results of the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey revealed dire conditions for trans youth - one in two trans students reported verbal harassment, nearly one in four had been physically attacked, and more than one in ten had been sexually assaulted. Many of us faced such obstacles in our own childhoods.
The Gloucester County School Board has failed Gavin Grimm. Every action taken by an educator is an act of modeling for students, and this action is about far more than just bathrooms. By responding to Gavin’s earnest request for basic respect by expelling him from communal school bathrooms, the Gloucester County School Board is effectively communicating that he does not belong with other children. We are deeply disturbed by this.
We know well how much determination and courage it takes for a transgender person to stand up for themselves in a world where too many of us face violence because of who we are, in a world that regularly tells us we are crazy, that our bodies are disgusting, that we are worthless. Instead of teaching children that rising above all odds to survive such hostile conditions and advocate for oneself is worthy of admiration, the Gloucester School Board is teaching children that transgender people should be ostracized and separated from the general public.
The problem here lies with adults who are fearful of difference. All across the United States, acceptance for transgender youth is growing. 60% of transgender people report that they have supportive families, and 56% of transgender students report supportive classmates (U.S. Trans Survey, 2015). Many of us have been heartened by incredible displays of support for transgender children in our own classrooms. We see our students wanting to make sure that all children are treated fairly and that they have equal access to public life. Because of their actions and care for each other, we are enormously hopeful about the future.
As a boy who is transgender, Gavin cannot use the girls’ bathroom. It is deeply uncomfortable for him, it disrupts his medical care, and it is no more appropriate for him than it would be for other boys. But instead of meeting his needs, the Gloucester County School Board failed Gavin Grimm. By responding to Gavin’s earnest request for basic respect by expelling him from communal school restrooms, the Gloucester County School Board is denying him access to an education. As educators, it seems to us that we all have much to learn from Gavin, and from other transgender students. We cannot shun them from public education. There is so much at stake in his case, not just for Gavin, but for all students.
The Transgender/Non Binary Teachers Network
Dr. Elizabeth Bishop
Allison Ruth McLay
Cayden Kriya Shakti Betzig
Chris H. Smith
Christian J. Zsilavetz
McKinley R. Morrison