A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled on Tuesday in favor of a transgender student who was born female and wishes to use the boys’ restroom at his rural Virginia high school. It was the first time a federal appellate court has ruled that Title IX — the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in schools — protects the rights of students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
The ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in favor of the student, Gavin Grimm, comes amid escalating fights nationwide over transgender people and the bathrooms they should be allowed to use. In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed a law last month that, among other things, limits transgender people to using the bathrooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates. That prompted the Obama administration to consider whether the state would be ineligible for billions of dollars in federal funding for schools, housing and highways.
Proponents of L.G.B.T. rights said the ruling could have “major implications” for North Carolina’s law, known as House Bill 2. North Carolina is one of five states covered by the Fourth Circuit.
“Today’s ruling makes plain that North Carolina’s House Bill 2 violates Title IX by discriminating against transgender students and forcing them to use the wrong restroom at school,” the A.C.L.U. and the gay rights group Lambda Legal said in a statement. “This mean-spirited law not only encourages discrimination and endangers transgender students – it puts at risk billions of dollars in federal funds that North Carolina receives for secondary and post-secondary schools.”
The A.C.L.U. brought the case on behalf of Mr. Grimm, who was born female but identifies as a male, in June 2015, seeking a preliminary injunction so that Mr. Grimm could use the boys’ restrooms at Gloucester High School.
The school administration initially allowed him to do so, but the local school board later approved a policy that banned him from the boys’ restrooms. Judge Robert G. Doumar of Federal District Court ruled against Mr. Grimm in September, dismissing his claim that the school board had violated Title IX, although the judge did allow his case to go forward under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
A three-judge panel for the Fourth Circuit considered the case. The ruling on Tuesday reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the Title IX claim, stating that the District Court “did not accord appropriate deference” to federal anti-discrimination regulations.
The appellate court remanded the case to the District Court, which was ordered to re-evaluate Mr. Grimm’s request for a preliminary injunction.
Officials from the Gloucester County School Board, which is named as the defendant in the case, did not return calls seeking comment.
In a statement released through the A.C.L.U., Mr. Grimm said: “I feel so relieved and vindicated by the court’s ruling. Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school.”