This Week in Nondiscrimination: NH Prepares to Celebrate and a Win For Gavin Grimm Among Highlights in Positive Week

By Shane Stahl • May 25, 2018 • 1:15 pm

This week in nondiscrimination, we saw momentum surge in the continued fight for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections across the country. In addition to New Hampshire preparing to finalize passage of transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, we also saw a key court victory in Virginia for Gavin Grimm, the transgender student at the center of a landmark legal case.. Read these stories and others you may have missed during this penultimate week of May.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Granite State kept preparing to celebrate this week as plans remained in motion for Republican Governor Chris Sununu to sign House Bill 1319, known widely as #TransBillNH, which will add comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in housing, employment, and public accommodations to existing civil rights law. The Governor has publicly committed to signing the bill once it reaches his desk.

The legislation passed through two committees and the House of Representatives before going to the Senate for final consideration, where on May 2 it was voted ‘ought to pass’ by a 14-10 vote. Along the way, it picked up the endorsement of the influential Children’s and Libertarian caucuses, as well as groups and individuals including law enforcement professionals, safety advocates, faith leaders, and business owners.

Governor Sununu has until the end of June to sign legislation passed during the 2018 session.

VIRGINIA

In a ruling on May 22, a federal judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, found that Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student who graduated last year from Gloucester School District in Virginia, could make claims of discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 after his district banned him from using the bathroom that corresponds to his gender identity, thereby refusing the district’s motion to dismiss.

In 2015, the ACLU filed suit against the district, claiming they had violated Title IX, which includes protections against sex discrimination.The claim was initially dismissed, but on appeal, this decision was vacated, owing largely to then-issued guidance to schools by the Obama administration on how to address issues regarding transgender students. The school district then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who agreed to take up the case. However, after the newly installed Trump administration revoked the earlier guidance, they remanded the case back to the lower court for further investigation.

Grimm, now 19 and planning to attend college in California this fall, said in a statement from the ACLU: “I feel an incredible sense of relief. After fighting this policy since I was 15 years old, I finally have a court decision saying that what the Gloucester County School Board did to me was wrong and it was against the law.”

The May 22 ruling also ordered both parties to schedule a settlement conference in the next 30 days.

MICHIGAN

On May 21, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission voted 5-0-1 to newly interpret the state’s nondiscrimination laws, which prohibit discrimination based on sex, to also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The huge move is the firststep toward examining anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the state after being petitioned by the state’s leading LGBTQ group, Equality Michigan, in addition to 37 other organizations from across the state.

Interpretive Statement 2018-1, offered by Commissioner Alma Wheeler-Smith, states that “discrimination because of…sex” includes discrimination because of gender identity and discrimination because of sexual orientation. Multiple groups have previously argued that the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Right Act’s existing prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses such cases.

Equality Michigan Executive Director Stephanie White said: “Equality Michigan commends the Commission for their pro-equality leadership…their action today has the practical effect of providing LGBT victims of discrimination with an opportunity to have their cases heard and to seek redress for the anti-LGBT discrimination that is all too common in our state.”

Multiple federal courts have already set precedent for existing sex discrimination laws to apply to sexual orientation and gender identity, including those in the 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 11th Districts. Furthermore, the EEOC has for several years determined that federal sex discrimination laws are applicable to LGBTQ identity.

The decision from the Civil Rights Commission fuels the state’s upward momentum toward passing explicit statewide comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

PENNSYLVANIA

In an expedited decision on Thursday, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals found that a Pennsylvania high school’s transgender-inclusive policy should not be suspended, and that the anonymous group of students who filed the initial complaint had no standing to prove they would be harmed by such a policy.

In a ruling that took only 30 minutes, a three judge panel also stated that the plaintiffs, students at Boyertown High School represented by the notoriously anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, were unable to show that they would succeed in a full trial.

Boyertown’s policy allows students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, following the lead of many other districts across the country enacting similar inclusive policies. Several federal courts and federal appellate courts have determined that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 require schools to treat transgender people with dignity.

“The court is joining a growing consensus of courts that recognize the inclusion and common humanity of transgender students,” said Ria Tabacco-Mar, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.


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