Public Resources

Law in Society Award Hypothetical - 2017

Transgender Rights in School

Recently, transgender issues have come to the public forefront due to a number of watershed moments, the most prominent of which was Caitlyn Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer on national television. During the interview, Caitlyn, who was previously known as Olympic gold medalist decathlete Bruce Jenner, revealed that she had dealt with gender dysphoria since childhood, meaning that she identified as a woman rather than her biological gender. Caitlyn Jenner subsequently appeared on the cover of "Vanity Fair" magazine and became the star of a new reality television show. 

Increased awareness of transgender issues led to a number of legal initiatives at the state and federal levels. Since 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed civil rights lawsuits against school districts in which it found that transgender students were being discriminated against. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a joint letter to all schools receiving federal funding stating that the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of “sex” under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. In that letter, the Obama Administration threatened to withdraw federal funding from schools that did not comply with its Title IX guidance. Title IX, like all federal laws, supersedes any state laws and regulations that are in conflict.

In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit became the first appellate court to affirm the Obama Administration’s position in the case "G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board." In that case, a Virginia high school student named Gavin Grimm sued school officials over its policy requiring all students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their biological gender or “an alternative appropriate private facility.” In other cases, parents and students have filed lawsuits against the federal government and their local school districts, alleging that students’ privacy rights were violated when the school permitted transgender students to use the locker rooms of their gender identity. Those plaintiffs often argue that the word “sex” in Title IX means only biological sex and should not be applied to gender identity. 

Questions:

1.    Should the law protect transgender students from discrimination on the basis of their gender identities?
2.    Is it discrimination for a transgender student to be prohibited from using the restroom or locker room of their gender identity?
3.    Should the federal government establish a nationwide policy on transgender students in public schools, or are state governments and local school boards better suited to make these decisions? 

Updated: Oct 07, 2016