Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Transgender Student's Virginia Court Case Likely To Affect Other States


A court decision could force North Carolina to change its so-called bathroom bill, known as House Bill, or HB2. That bill says people can only use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex. And it's caused a lot of controversy to put it mildly. But now, a federal appeals court has ruled that a transgender boy in Virginia can sue his school board for discrimination because it banned him from using the boys' bathroom.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory says he's now trying to figure out what to do.


PAT MCCRORY: We've got to evaluate the impact of this court ruling on existing legislation, and I will do just that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joining us is Joshua Block, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney that argued the Virginia case. Good morning.

JOSHUA BLOCK: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So at the center of this decision is Title IX. Explain to me what Title IX is and what the court is saying.

BLOCK: Title IX is a statute that prohibits all sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funding. The Department of Education is the federal agency in charge of enforcing Title IX, and it has issued a long-standing regulation saying that schools can still have separate bathrooms for boys and girls without violating Title IX.

But when they're deciding what bathroom a transgender student should be allowed to use, the Department of Education has said that schools must allow transgender students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Until now, supporters of these bathroom bills have argued that schools can ignore what the Department of Education says because no court has upheld its reasoning. And this changes all of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So is North Carolina, after this decision, in violation of Title IX?

BLOCK: Yes, without a doubt. With the 4th Circuit's decision, you now have a federal appellate court ruling that every federal court in its jurisdiction needs to defer to the Department of Education's interpretation, which means that in North Carolina and in every other state in the 4th Circuit - that includes Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and North and South Carolina - schools will be bound by the federal Department of Education's interpretation of Title IX on this issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, we've heard North Carolina's governor scrambling to figure out what it means for his state. Will they have to change their legislation or lose federal funding there?

BLOCK: Well, I think that this decision makes clear that whatever parts of HB2 affecting schools receiving Title IX funding now squarely conflicts with Title IX. So the ball is now in North Carolina's court to decide what they want to do in light of that reality.

Historically, the Department of Education has never had to actually pull money because once the Department of Education tells a school district you're violating Title IX and we're going to institute proceedings to pull your money, the school district agrees to comply.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: North Carolina's governor - he's talking about it going all the way to the Supreme Court. Do you think that that is likely?

BLOCK: Absolutely not. This is the first federal court of appeals decision to rule on the issue. It's the only federal court of appeals decision to rule on this issue. The Supreme Court generally waits until there's a split in circuit authority before taking on an issue like this. There is absolutely no reason for the Supreme Court to be stepping in at this point.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joshua Block is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information