Being able to use the same bathroom as other students at school is critical for the healthy development of transgender adolescents, says an amicus brief filed on behalf of medical and mental health associations by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and Goodwin Procter LLP in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board. The case, filed in federal district court in Virginia by the American Civil Liberties Union, involves Gavin Grimm, a 16-year-old transgender Virginia boy whose use of the boys’ room prompted the school board to enact a policy excluding transgender students from using the same restrooms as their peers.
Written on behalf of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, the nation’s leading clinics specializing in serving transgender youth, Dr. Norman Spack of Boston Children’s Hospital, and a number of other prominent doctors and medical and policy organizations with expertise in adolescent and transgender health issues, the brief takes a close look at research on child development of identity, and the role of schools in supporting—or thwarting—healthy development. GLAD represented Maine student Nicole Maines, who was similarly excluded from using a restroom with her peers, in a groundbreaking case establishing rights for transgender students.
“When a school separates a transgender boy from his peer group it does terrible damage,” said Jennifer Levi, Transgender Rights Project Director for GLAD. “The school’s actions stigmatize and isolate the boy, telling him and his peers that he is different from all other boys thereby disrupting social relationships. All of this compromises his educational opportunities, in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act and constitutional guarantees of equal protection.”
“Schools must take a proactive role in supporting transgender students,” said NCLR Transgender Youth Project Attorney Asaf Orr. “Unfortunately, in this case, the school board allowed their own misconceptions and fears about transgender youth, as well as those of the community, to drive policy. As a result, the school board’s policy perpetuates negative stereotypes, isolates, and harms transgender students instead of creating welcoming school environment for all students. This is not only contrary to the professional obligation of educators and administrators, but ignores the medical and mental health research on child development and the standards of care for transgender youth. Stigmatizing transgender students is not only wrong, but illegal.”
In 2014, Gavin had been using the boys’ room at school, consistent with established standards of care that emphasize the importance of living in the proper gender identity in every respect, and in accordance with his individualized treatment plan. His use of the boys’ room caused no disruption.
Yet on December 9, 2014, the Gloucester County School Board held a school board meeting to discuss Gavin’s bathroom use and adopted a new policy restricting use of school restrooms and locker rooms requiring transgender students to use “an alternative private space.”
The brief cites peer-reviewed research to show that: 1) schools play a crucial role in child development; 2) identity development is the task of every child, particularly in adolescence; 3) external factors such as stigma, social segregation, and discrimination can harm the development of identity in transgender youth; 4) external factors such as social integration, school support, and the leadership of adults can support the healthy development of transgender adolescents.