17-Year-Old Gavin Grimm On Why He's Fighting for Trans Equality

The high-school senior suing his school district for its bathroom policy vows to continue his activism after graduation.

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I'm 17, and I'm pretty much like many of the other guys in my senior class. I like video games and hanging out with my friends, I'm waiting to find out where I'll go to college in the fall, and I'm counting the days until graduation. One thing is different about me, however: I'm transgender. It's something I don't think about every minute of every day. I'm just as likely to be thinking about the next episode of Better Call Saul or how I did on the pop quiz I had that morning. But being trans affects me every weekday because of what the Gloucester, Virginia, school board did to me during my sophomore year.

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At the beginning of that year, I started school as Gavin. My classmates and teachers called me my name and used the right pronouns, "he" and "him." I spoke to the principal, and we decided it would make sense for me to use the boys' restroom like all the other guys in school. It was no big deal.

For two months, everything was fine. But it didn't last long.

Some parents complained to the school board that their sons were sharing a restroom with me, even though there hadn't been any issues. That's because I go to the restroom, I use the restroom, I wash my hands, and then I leave.

Then the school board held two meetings to discuss my use of the boys' restroom. The board didn't tell me or my family that they'd be talking about me. My mother and I went to the first meeting after we found out about it on social media less than 24 hours before it happened.

Several adults spoke out, including people who don't even have any children at my school. They talked about my genitals and one man even called me a freak. It was alarming and upsetting to be bullied by grown people who didn't know me at all, just because I was a transgender person who sometimes has to go to the bathroom.

With my mom at my side, I pleaded my case to the school board. I told them that I'm a human and just want to use the bathroom like everyone else. But they ultimately decided I would have to use a separate restroom from all my peers.

There are only three gender-neutral restrooms in the school. Two are converted broom closets, and one is in the nurse's office. They are far away from my classes. It often makes me late, running across the whole school just to use the bathroom, which singles me out even more. When I am in that part of the school, everybody knows why I am there. I'll hear laughter or whispers behind my back or catch just enough of a conversation and sidelong glance that I know what it is about. I get stress headaches when I go to school. Sometimes, to avoid all the discomfort and the attention, I don't go at all.

Since then, the ACLU has helped me fight for my rights. We're suing my school district for my right to use the boys' restroom. We were even taking my case to the Supreme Court before the Trump administration interfered and the Supreme Court sent my case back to the 4th Circuit.

Bathrooms aren't the real issue. The goal of this bullying, harassment, and discriminatory laws is to keep trans people from living as their most authentic selves. To eliminate us from public life.

Title IX is a part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, a federal law that prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their sex. The Obama administration wrote guidance to schools nationwide saying that Title IX should be interpreted to protect transgender students, but the Trump administration has since announced that it disagrees. Now it's up to the courts to decide if Title IX protects trans students like me from discrimination. Because the Obama-era guidance was rescinded, though, my case will take a little bit longer to wind through the court system.

I'm not done fighting yet. And even though my case won't be over before I graduate high school, it's more important than ever that we advocate for transgender equality in schools — and not just because more young people are coming out as trans.

Trans students like me are in real danger as more and more states move toward adopting discriminatory "bathroom bills." In Texas, a bill called SB6 passed the state Senate and is pending in the state House of Representatives; it would make it illegal for transgender people to use the restrooms that align with their gender identity. That means forcing trans girls into men's rooms and trans boys into women's rooms. It would create a situation where thousands of students face the same issue I face at school: being isolated and discriminated against by the very educators who are supposed to create a safe space for us to learn.

Trans people aren't a threat to anyone else in bathrooms. In fact, we're more likely to be harassed, screamed at, and assaulted when we try to use public restrooms. That's part of the reason many trans people report limiting or totally avoiding eating or drinking when in public, just to avoid needing to use the public restroom. I should know — I've done this at school myself.

But of course, bathrooms aren't the real issue. The goal of this bullying, harassment, and discriminatory laws is to keep trans people from living as their most authentic selves. To eliminate us from public life.

We can't let them win.

With the Trump administration taking a clear anti-LGBT stance, states like Texas feel safe proposing and passing laws that discriminate against trans people. If the federal government won't defend us, we need the help of the American people. We need allies to stand up to everyone who tries to bully or discriminate against trans people, from school boards to state legislatures to governors. In my case, I had powerful support from many staff members, most notably a few teachers, the librarians, and of course, the nurses. They all made a space for me to be safe and be myself in an otherwise hostile environment. I could not be this successful without them.

I can never get my high-school years back, but I don't regret starting this fight for my rights, and I'm going to see it through.

Gavin Grimm is a high-school senior and the plaintiff in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, a federal lawsuit fighting for the rights of transgender students. You can follow him on Facebook.

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