The U.S Supreme Court announced earlier this week that it would forego any judicial decision on the Gavin Grimm case and instead send the suit back to the lower courts for further debate. This decision comes after President Trump’s controversial decision in late February to revoke a federal mandate from the Obama presidency protecting the rights of transgender students to use public school restrooms of their preferred gender identity. The Supreme Court’s decision to abstain from the case is viewed by many as a major setback for transgender rights, already reeling from the implementation of so-called “bathroom” laws in a number of states.
At the heart of the case is Gavin Grimm, a seventeen year-old transgender Virginia high school student, who is suing the Gloucester County School Board over his legal right to use the bathroom of his preferred gender identity. The ACLU, representing Grimm, contends that the school board’s policy of requiring students to use bathrooms according to their biologically born gender is “unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and violates Title IX of the U.S Education Amendments of 1972.” Title IX, widely considered to be the legal foundation to institutional gender equality, explicitly prohibits “discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.”
The debate surrounding transgender rights, especially in the realm of public and higher education, is one that has become hotly debated. Opponents often cite safety concerns and the potential for sexual assault to criticize advocates within the so called “bathroom debate.” What such detractors miss is that the heart of the matter within this debate concerns an unequivocally American value: equality. Equal access to institutions and facilities (such as public bathrooms) is an inalienable right that should be adjudicated on a national level.
In his dissension against the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize gay marriage, Justice Roberts criticized the ruling for disregarding the democratic process and states’ rights, foisting upon all Americans overnight a national definition of marriage. Detractors to the transgender rights movement make similar claims: such matters should be decided on a local, state level. The federal government, in their eyes, has no business legislating such private matters within the restrooms of Gloucester High School. This myopic perspective, however, disregards the universality of certain issues such as gender equality that unequivocally should be decided on a national level. Had the issues of public school segregation or interracial marriage been adjudicated strictly on a state level, our country would be a more decidedly unequal place in 2017.
Although such a complex judicial matter can seem somewhat far removed from Duke, we can bring relevance to this national issue by creating an environment conducive to the safety and comfort of the members of our transgender community. By being careful in our individual language when discussing gender, becoming more educated on issues facing transgender people and adopting gender neutral bathrooms, we can show our support. While single stall bathrooms within public buildings and some dorms at Duke have already been transformed into gender neutral facilities, as an institution, we should take a stronger stance regarding transgender issues, especially in light of House Bill 2. Though certain political matters, such as transgender rights in public restrooms, should decidedly not be adjudicated on a local level, we still have the power to embrace the issue on a local level to truly participate in this national debate.
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