GLOUCESTER -- In a vote that brought condemnation from at least one advocacy organization, the Gloucester County School Board, by a vote of six to one, decided Tuesday night to enact a policy which stipulates that students can only use a restroom specific to their biological gender.
"Equality Virginia is disappointed that the Gloucester County School Board voted on a policy that not only discriminates against transgender students, but one that we believe to be illegal under Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972," said James Parrish, executive director with Equality Virginia.
"With this vote, the school board has failed to ensure that all students in Gloucester County Public Schools have equal access to public accommodations, including restrooms, locker rooms, or changing facilities, upon the basis of their gender identity," he continued.
The issue came about because of the circumstances surrounding how to address to issue as it relates to a transgender teen who attends Gloucester High School.
Gavin Grimm is 15 and pretty much like any other boy you'd meet, even though at birth, he was biologically a female. He has taken on a burden few can understand, but which he has accepted as a responsibility to others like him.
Being a transgender teen in Gloucester, VA hasn't been easy for Gavin.
"I was scared, because Gloucester is a very conservative area; it's a very religious area," Gavin told us. "I was very afraid to come out. I was very afraid to transition in school, but I learned that I had nothing to fear," he said.
Gavin, who also has a twin brother, says he grew up "very masculine," and didn't feel any different from his twin.
"My transgender reality is not a substantial part of who I am," he said. "I'm just a normal kid for the most part."
By last summer, Gavin had decided, with the support of those around him, to transition to the gender he identified with. During the previous school year, he was registered using his birth name, but this year that changed.
"I transitioned over the summer of this year," he said. "When I returned to school, it was under a new name with new pronouns. Easy as pie."
Gavin found that, while he faced some of the negativity he expected, he also had a lot of support.
"My peers were open-minded, open-armed," he told us. "I've had support in people I've never expected. I've had people come up to me that I don't know, that you never in a million years would expect to be supportive of something like this. And others have been just curious."
The experience encouraged him to be open about who he is. But Gavin's transition to being a transgendered boy created a situation for the school that they'd never tried to address before. Which restroom should he use?
He told us initially he was "permitted use the nurse's restroom, because clearly I could not use the girl's restroom. I'm not a girl. I'm not using the girl's restroom. So I said, 'Hey, where can I use the restroom? This is a pretty pressing need that every student has.' And so they said, use the nurse's room, and at the time I was fine with that, because I was still afraid, I didn't know how my peers would react. So, I didn't want to push the envelope any further than I had to all at once."
But it soon became obvious that this solution wasn't working.
"The nurses office is at least a three minute walk from the class I have closest to it. It took a substantial amount of time out of my class time, and it was embarrassing," he said. "When you're gone for 15 minutes at a time to use the bathroom, what are high schoolers gonna think? It's humiliating and it's alienating."
Gavin decided it was the school's responsibility to provide a better alternative, "so finally I went to them and I said, 'well clearly the staff bathroom is not working out, the nurse's bathroom is not working out, what can we do?' My principal said, you know what, you're a boy. use the boy's room. So I said, 'Sweet!"
Gavin says that it seemed to be working out fine.
"I have no complaints! Neither did the students, either. So I used the boys room no problem. I had absolutely no, no encounters in the boys restroom."
But once he started using the boys' restroom, it became a problem for some people, including parents who emailed the school board complaining. That resulted in a bathroom policy proposal being put on the table. The vote was postponed a month ago, and was supposed to be discussed at the school board meeting Tuesday night.
Gloucester County Public Schools currently doesn't have a policy about the use of bathrooms in schools. There is a general nondiscrimination policy, but it does not specifically address this issue. The language in the proposal basically states that students may only use restrooms that coincide with their biological sex. Students with "gender identity issues" would be provided an "alternative appropriate private facility."
In spite of the outcome, Gavin is convinced that his efforts were worthwhile.
"I've used the boys bathroom in public for right around a year and a half now. I've never had any problems with that; not in Walmart, not in Busch Gardens, not anywhere," he said. "Nowhere have I ever had a problem using the boys restroom in public."
Now that the proposal has passed, Gavin's prepared to deal with that, too.
"Legally, there's only one viable option here, and that is to give me my rights," he said. "If this proposal is passed, I'm not afraid, because like I said, I'm not gonna stop fighting if I don't have my rights upheld, and legally, eventually I will have my rights upheld."
Gavin bears a sense of responsibility well beyond his years.
"Seeing that I have been put in this position, I feel that it is my moral duty to help as many people as I can with this, because I know I'm not the only transgender student Gloucester High School, and I know I'm not the only transgender student that will ever go to Gloucester High School," he told us.
"I realize the value of sharing my story and I want to tell some kids out there that they're not alone and that things will work out for them in the end."