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Lawyers fighting over the scope of civil rights law for transgender people are urging the Supreme Court to bring some clarity to the issues. Lawyers for a 17-year-old transgender student and the Gloucester, Va., school board that wants to limit which bathroom he can use don’t agree on much. But both sides have concluded the Trump administration’s decision this week to revoke guidance that protects transgender students’ ability to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity only heightens the need for a hearing before the nation’s highest court.
Rather than making the claims of Virginia student Gavin Grimm moot, his attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union and their courtroom opponents are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to proceed with oral arguments scheduled for March 28.
“If anything, the confusion caused by this recent action by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education only underscores the need for the Supreme Court to bring some clarity here,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. As for Gloucester County, the school board said it “looks forward to explaining to the Supreme Court why [the rescinded guidance] underscores that the Board’s common sense restroom and locker room policy is legal under federal law.”
The high court agreed to hear two questions in the Grimm case: one, whether the former Justice and Education Departments’ interpretation of Title IX of a 1972 education law protecting students from discrimination on the basis of their sex deserved deference; and two, whether the prohibition on sex discrimination in schools also applies to gender identity. While the first question likely goes away along with the Obama-era guidance, the second remains, if justices still want to field it.
The U.S. Justice Department, led by new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said the matter is best left to “Congress, state legislatures, and local governments,” shrouding the federal argument in a case for states’ rights. And at the White House on Thursday, press secretary Sean Spicer pointed out that a federal judge in Texas last year enjoined the guidance so it never fully took effect. Spicer also asserted, “There’s nobody who’s possibly suggesting” that the 1972 law contemplated protection of transgender students at the time. That view is shared by a series of mostly conservative groups, which have weighed in with Supreme Court briefs opposing an expansive reading of sex discrimination.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, one such nonprofit, defended the approach by the Gloucester School Board that allowed transgender students to, among other things, use separate, individual facilities to change clothes and shower. The Alliance said school boards enjoy great freedom to develop education policies for their own communities. Civil rights lawyers said that’s just wrong. The federal government, they argue, has long led the way when it comes to integrating schools, easing access to the polls, and other critical civil rights issues.
What’s more, Block at the ACLU said, his client Gavin Grimm has obtained an amended birth certificate stating that he’s male. If Grimm moves to a state like North Carolina, where the law defines sex by what’s on a birth certificate, schools there would allow him to use the boy’s room. But Gloucester County, Va., has adopted a different approach, excluding Grimm from the boy’s room and requiring him to use a single-user restroom.
“The fact is that no child in America should have their rights subject to their ZIP code,” said Eliza Byard of the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. Advocates for the LGBT community say that a half-dozen courts across the nation already have adopted their approach finding that longstanding protections against sex discrimination under federal law extend to transgender people. The U.S. Courts of Appeals in the Sixth and Seventh Circuits have sided with transgender students and denied attempts to halt or stay the cases while they move toward appeal, ACLU lawyers said.
“Honestly, I’ll just tell you, nobody wants to be on the business end of a transgender lawsuit these days,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The courts have been moving in our direction very quickly.”
Nearly two years ago, a divided Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the due process clause and the equal protection clause. President Trump told an interviewer this year that is “settled law.”
But legal arguments about whether protections against sex discrimination in Title IX and other federal laws extend to gender identity, central to the lives of transgender people, are still very much active in the courts. For instance, Lambda Legal, a nonprofit that advocates and litigates for LGBT clients, said court decisions are imminent in two of its cases that “could change the national landscape of employment law for LGBT people.”
“It’s not just about bathrooms, it’s about being a full, participating member of society,” said Demoya Gordon, a Transgender Rights Project attorney at Lambda Legal. In one case, a math teacher, who is a lesbian, separated from her job in South Bend, Ind., because of her sexual orientation. Lambda is arguing that sexual orientation discrimination against its client, Kimberly Hively, “is a form of sex discrimination” barred under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The organization is making the same argument before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. There, a security guard sued her employer for harassment and for allegedly forcing her out of a job at Georgia Regional Hospital because she’s lesbian and “gender-nonconforming.”
Security officers at a Pennsylvania casino have become the first to ratify a union contract under billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Security personnel at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem on Wednesday agreed to a three-year deal with Las Vegas Sands Corp., The (Allentown) Morning Call reported. The officers are the only union members at Las Vegas Sands, which has more than 50,000 employees worldwide at casinos in Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau. They are part of the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America.
The 146-member local approved a deal that gives security guards immediate raises of 8 percent, a seniority structure and a greater say in work rules at the casino in Bethlehem, according to International Union President David Hickey. The vote was 70-6.
“These guys are making history today,” Hickey said. “They’ve hung in there through some hard times to get here. They have a right to be proud.”
Sands guards first voted to unionize in 2011, but the casino company founded by Adelson fought the decision. Negotiations on an initial contract began nearly a year ago.
“The first contract is always the hardest, but we’re pretty happy with what we got,” said George Bonser, a recently retired Sands guard who helped lead the unionization effort. Sands has remained largely free of unions by offering competitive wages and benefits to its workers, and by fighting attempts to organize, the newspaper reported. Sands officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The season of comebacks was on the precipice of another. With two minutes and 20 seconds left, a security guard warned fans in courtside seats to be aware of a possible court storming, Syracuse s third of the season. With eight seconds left, Tyler Lydon passed the ball to Tyus Battle. Battle then lobbed it to John Gillon, who caught it with 4.4 seconds left. Gillon hadn t realized how little time was left. He looked up at the clock and knew he had to sprint down the court.
I was like, Alright, I gotta go make a play, Gillon said. He stopped at the 3-point line in the tied game. There was only time for one shot. The Orange had been in this position before. He beat the buzzer to force overtime against North Carolina State. Battle beat the buzzer against Clemson.
Lydon rushed to get the offensive rebound. Gillon didn t know if it d go in when it left his hand. Assistant coach Gerry McNamara screamed, Bank! Bank! Bank! from the sideline because he saw it was going long. The shot hit off the backboard and fell through the basket. Syracuse beat Duke. 78-75.
I m going to try and be a stone-cold killer every game, Gillon said.
Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer
The win over No. 10 Duke (22-6, 10-5 Atlantic Coast) provides a massive boost to Syracuse s (17-12, 9-7) NCAA Tournament resume. Wednesday night marked SU s third Top 10 win of the season. Each previous time, students stormed the court. They did it again after 11 ties and 16 lead changes, none more dramatic than the final one. Gillon didn t sub out once and finished with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting and six assists. His ability to drive and score, which he showed more and more as the game went on, is the reason he took over midseason as Syracuse s starting point guard. After committing five turnovers in each of the past two games, both losses, Gillon committed zero on Wednesday.
We go as John Gillon goes, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. After joining the ACC in 2013-14, Syracuse and Duke played two of the most memorable games in recent SU history. In the first matchup that year, the Orange beat the Blue Devils in overtime. Gillon s high school teammate Rasheed Sulaimon hit a buzzer-beater that tied the game at the end of regulation. The two talked last night. Gillon told Sulaimon he d kill Duke for him.
Gillon wowed the buzzing Dome crowd with under five minutes left in the first half by crossing over multiple times leading to Jayson Tatum tumbling to the floor. Gillon backpedaled and nailed a 3. As he walked back on defense, his facial expression didn t change. It was the kind of play he was used to making at Arkansas-Little Rock and Colorado State against weaker competition. But this was Duke, the 10th-ranked team in the country with the seventh most efficient offense nationwide, per Kenpom.com. On the Blue Devils next possession, Tatum, the future first-round NBA draft pick, hit a mid-range jumper. Syracuse trailed by eight and eventually as much as 10. The two teams traded body blow after body blow all game. The team with the ball last would be in the best position to win.
For the seventh straight game, Syracuse faced a double-digit deficit. It was used to being in that position and the combination of Battle and Gillon exploded in the second half and combined for 44 points.
This team keeps fighting, Boeheim said.
Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer
Gillon, in particular, has seemingly bounced back every time. After zero points in back-to-back games against North Florida and Connecticut, he scored 23 against Boston University. He followed up a zero-point performance against Notre Dame by leading SU down the stretch against Wake Forest in its first ACC single-digit win. On Sunday, Gillon had his worst game of the season. He went 2-for-10 from the field with three assists and five costly turnovers. Each time he touched the ball, Georgia Tech fans berated him with air ball chants. Now, Gillon s resilience has sparked Syracuse s in a season that nearly slipped away.
How do you come back from a horrible game and then do that? It s special and underrated, Gillon s mother, Phyllis, said via text message. (Boeheim) didn t get down on John after the Georgia Tech game. Do fans really think players want to play poorly? They are trying to miss shots? That belief bore fruit. The outcome you saw tonight. Gillon s first-ever buzzer-beater came in a fourth grade AAU tournament. About 50 people witnessed the shot. His friends jumped on him. Wednesday s buzzer-beater came in front of nearly 30,281 more people. In the locker room after the game, an equipment manager held Gillon s jersey. He showed it to a security guard before putting it in the laundry.
The transition from a motion-type offense to a pick-and-roll-type offense took time. Four new players in a starting lineup did too. And Gillon didn t get off to a hot start Wednesday, either. In the final 13 minutes, he scored 12 of his 26 points. He reached the second level of Duke s defense consistently and finished.
Once I get a little taste of blood and I score, I just get addicted to it.
The instant classic s final shot cued another court storming. Another Top 10 win. Another gasp of breath for Syracuse s once-lost season.