The spitefulness of Republicans — and it’s a problem that goes much deeper than just Trump — toward the vulnerable is breathtaking. Whether it’s cutting medical care for millions at the low end of the economic scale or food assistance for the hungry — the GOP majority seems determined to make bad situations worse.
And in their attack on the transgender community, their aim is particularly pernicious — taking on not the adults who are increasingly numerous and outspoken, but those who have the greatest moral claim on society’s support and nurturing — trans youth.
On March 6 — just weeks after Attorney General Jeff Sessions prevailed on Trump to pull an Obama administration policy ensuring that transgender school students get the dignity they deserve by gaining access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity — the Supreme Court ducked the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia high school student fighting to uphold that principle.
A high school senior, Grimm is soft-spoken but exceptionally self-possessed, and in a recent interview with Norfolk’s ABC affiliate (full video follows at bottom of this article), where he was joined by his mother, he described the transformation — “exhausting” at times — he’s undergone in his young life. It’s clear that his courage and strong sense of self have made his example a public document demanding fair and equal treatment for all his trans peers.
Going to school has given him migraines, he told WVEC-TV’s Laura Geller in a half-hour interview.
“They’re like… I-came-home-and-crashed type headaches,” he explained. “I have always had a problem in school since elementary school, having been bullied and sort of outcasted and not really fitting in.”
He is certain the migraines are related to school because they seldom happen during summer vacation.
When first entering elementary school, he recalled, “I didn’t identify with my female peers.”
As he became more certain he was a boy, he said, “I had been, you know, slowly gearing my wardrobe toward the boy’s section.”
At 12, the transformation was completed; he got his hair cut short. For him, the fashion choice was momentous step: as if it were time for a Bar Mitzvah. Now he was a young man.
His family barely noticed.
In middle school, he continued, “I had been living my life in certain friends’ circles as a as a boy and that was what was comfortable for me, and… going into female-oriented spaces felt just wrong.”
At 14, a tongue-tied young man tried to explain all this to his mom and the words wouldn’t come — just tears exposing how gut-wrenching the conversation was for him.
His mom, Deirdre, pushed him to open up. She might have expected her child to say, “I’m a lesbian,” but was amazed to learn she had a son.
“You know, I was, like, I’m a nurse so I thought there’s nothing I can’t handle but then when he told me what the real story was, it was like, oh, I have to get educated because I don’t know,” Deirdre said in the interview.
Gavin had the foresight to have a book ready to recommend, and Deirdre spent three nights becoming familiar with transgender issues.
“One of the first things I read was the suicide rate of these kids,” she said. “That’s all I really needed to read… to be supportive, you know. I didn’t want my child to become one of those statistics.”
Another lesson learned turned conventional parenting on its head. Doctors told her “that school is not the most important thing when you’re in this situation but the child being healthy is the most important thing.” The best medical advice on preserving a trans child’s health, she said, is that parents shouldn’t insist their child go to school every single day — unless and until that school is safe for them. Battle fatigue might require kids to take a break from time to time. That’s why this issue is so important. The struggle to give trans youth access to public facilities like the bathroom is a campaign to change attitudes so that it is safe and healthy for children to be in school.
Gavin was uncertain how his announcement would be received by his family.
“Absolutely this household was homophobic,” he said. “… Not to the point that I would have gotten kicked out or harmed… It was not a friendly, open, accepting environment in a lot of ways as far as LGBT is concerned.”
In public, Gavin could walk to up to a cashier and be accepted as a boy. He could walk into a restaurant men’s room without comment.
“Well, I started going to men’s rooms, I think, even at the end of middle school because I knew I knew who I was,” he recalled.
In school, things were a little more difficult. At 15, his mom fully onboard, Grimm went to court to get a legal name change and then they visited the school principal, who was professional and open to meeting Gavin’s needs in the new school year. For weeks, he used the boy’s bathroom, then adults in the community protested to the school board, which overruled the principal and demanded that Gavin use a private bathroom.
That started Gavin’s life as a pioneer in the movement for trans high school students affirming their right to access public spaces of their choice and appropriate to their identity. The opposition insisted that safety required that the sexes be separated and refused to acknowledge that Gavin is a boy. A US district court backed the school board, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the Obama policy, based on the conclusion that gender identity discrimination is a form of illegal sex discrimination, should be respected.
Now that the Trump administration has overturned that policy, the nation’s high court has sent the case back to the Fourth Circuit, which could now consider whether the Obama policy was not only deserving of deference, but in fact the correct interpretation of the law and the Constitution.
Gavin will have graduated by the time this issue has any chance to get back to the Supreme Court, but in a critical respect, Gavin’s life has already been changed for the better. He has done TV interviews and appeared with Whoopi Goldberg on “The View” — experiences that, whatever the stresses — have surely enriched his life. He will certainly find many colleges happy to open their doors to him, and Trump or no Trump, he has found the support systems available for those young trans people fortunate enough to find them.
In that sense, Gavin is privileged among transgender Americans. He’s learned to speak up for himself, he has his family’s full-throated support, and he’s learned a lot about the world.
Meanwhile, in 2016, there were at least 24 murders of transgender people in the US, most of them women of color. Barely two months into the new year, already seven more such murders have occurred.