Massachusetts Organizations and Individuals Rush to File Amicus Briefs Supporting Gavin Grimm March 3, 2017

Several individual Bay Staters and Massachusetts organizations have signed on as friends of the court in the landmark transgender rights case, G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board. The case will be argued before the Supreme Court on March 28th.

The case is being brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a Virginia transgender boy named Gavin Grimm, who is challenging a policy in his local school district that singles out transgender students for discrimination and prohibits him from using the boys’ restroom at his school.

Those who have submitted amicus curiae briefs from Massachusetts include:

Brandon Adams of Framingham & Nicole Talbot of Essex

Both Brandon and Nicole were instrumental in helping pass #TransLawMA through the Massachusetts legislature last year.

Brandon testified in front of lawmakers about the challenges transgender students face, particularly bullying and feeling singled out by not being allowed to use the boys’ restroom at his school.

“When I came out as a transgender boy at my school, I was singled out and asked to use a separate restroom simply because I am transgender. When I complied with the school’s request and used a gender-neutral restroom, other students would physically harass and bully me. Because of their hatred and fear, I often avoided the restroom at school, causing me to drink less water, get headaches, and feel dehydrated. I asked to use the boys’ restroom because that’s where I felt safe, because that’s who I am — a boy. Schools should support students in any way they can, and make all kids feel safe, so we can focus on our education and on being kids. I hope the Supreme Court listens to our stories and stands up for equal treatment for kids like me and Gavin.”

Brandon’s father, Jonathan Eber, has also lent his support to Gavin and says this case is simply about whether transgender children will be able to access the same opportunities as their peers:

“I’m challenged to understand how anyone who calls themselves a citizen or member of humanity would want less for any child. As a dad, I’ve learned how to advocate for my kid. I’ve spoken to other parents, teachers, coworkers about Brandon’s journey. People know me, they know my son. This is about education. Brandon was raised right. He has decorum. He is not going to harm anyone. Want him to be the best and finest human being he can. I couldn’t be prouder of him and every other transgender kid and adult who is on a very unique journey.”

Nicole and her mother, Jeanne, have a different story to tell. When Nicole came out as transgender, her school was immediately supportive and inclusive. This was critical to ensuring Nicole got the best education possible, considering her dyslexia was already making school more of a challenge for her, according to her mother.

For Nicole, the main issue at hand is privacy—the same thing her peers want:

“We are just in there to go pee. For me, to fix my makeup, put more perfume on, fix my hair, to make sure I am all good. I am not invading anyone’s privacy. Overall I feel like, for me, I am the one that is hiding from everybody else to make sure that no one invades my privacy.”

Boston Public Schools

Many of the country’s major metropolitan school systems, including Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, joined a brief filed by educators and student-focused institutions like the National PTA, the American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists.

Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Tommy Chang said BPS had a duty to support transgender students like Gavin, and that signing onto his case was a reflection of the school system’s mission and values:

“One of the most important missions we have as a district is to create safe and welcoming learning environments where all students, including transgender and gender-nonconforming students, are respected and can flourish. Although the federal government recently rescinded its guidance protecting transgender students in our nation’s schools, transgender and gender nonconforming students in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) will remain protected from discrimination, bullying and harassment. The Boston Public Schools will continue to maintain our practice and culture of respect for all students and employees, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ). [We will continue] to ensure that every Boston Public School is a safe and welcoming place for all of us.”

Newton, MA

The City of Newton is also represented, on a brief that includes the signatures of representatives from 31 other municipalities, including San Francisco, New York and most of the country’s major metropolitan areas. City attorney Donnalyn B. Lynch Kahn signed the brief on behalf of Mayor Setti Warren.

According to the brief, the signers are representing the best interests of their residents—1.4 million transgender adults, to be precise, who live and work in these cities and deserve to be protected from discrimination. The brief also notes that in many cities, transgender people are already protected from discrimination by local Human Rights Ordinances:

“While many Americans have only recently become familiar with transgender members of our communities, neither transgender people nor transgender identities are new in American life. Transgender individuals are our classmates, our neighbors, and our coworkers, yet many face a daily reality marked by exclusion and violence. Amici share a strong interest in protecting members of our communities from mistreatment—an interest that has led many of the amici cities and counties to enact laws and implement policies that bar discrimination against transgender individuals.”

Attorney General Maura Healey

Attorney General Healey has signed onto an amicus brief with attorneys general from 17 other states and the District of Columbia.

At an earlier press conference in February, Healey criticized the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind Department of Education guidance that directed schools to allow transgender students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity. She noted that it was her legal opinion that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protected the right of transgender students to be protected from discrimination, and that she would support that position in Grimm’s case:

“We’ve been in court before joining in briefs in support of equality, and that will continue to be our position. The position of this office has been, and will continue to be … that the U.S. law Title IX prohibits this kind of discrimination based on one’s gender identity. We think that kind of discrimination is unlawful as it is, irrespective of any particular guidance issued by a Department of Education or a Department of Justice at any particular time.”

BPD Officer Javier A. Pagán & Salem PD Captain Conrad Prosniewski

Officer Pagán serves as the Boston Police Department’s GLBTQ liaison and Captain Prosniewski is the LGBT liaison for the Salem Police Department.

Both signed onto a brief with more than 60 other law enforcement officers from around the country. According to the brief, the core issue is one of public safety—for transgender students. They note that transgender people are more likely to be singled out for violence, and that allowing transgender students like Gavin to use facilities consistent with their gender identity does not negatively impact public safety. In fact, it enhances it.

“Nondiscrimination laws also promote safety for the community at large by promoting positive collaboration between law enforcement officials and all community members, including transgender individuals.

As law enforcement officers, [we] are keenly aware of the importance of building trust and facilitating communication between police officers and those they are sworn to protect. To be effective … law enforcement officers need all members of the community to work together to report crimes, cooperate with the police, and help develop solutions for local safety problems. Their experience has taught them that discriminating against certain groups alienates those groups and makes it less likely that they will report being victims of or witnesses to crimes.”

Businesses

Several businesses that joined the the push to pass #TransLawMA are also joining as friends of the court in support of Gavin.

Tech companies are well represented in both groups. Twitter, PayPal, Salesforce and Microsoft all signed onto the brief in Gavin’s case as well as onto the Freedom Massachusetts business coalition that supported the passage of #TransLawMA.

In the amicus brief, the companies note that not only do policies like the Gloucester School System’s hurt transgender students, such policies also hurt their employees:

“By singling out the transgender population, the (school system’s) policy signals to [our] transgender employees that they are less worthy than other community members, and that they should suppress perhaps the most essential part of who they are. This has a very direct effect on [our] transgender employees. It is well established that stigma can have a harmful effect on those targeted.”

Faith Leaders

An amicus brief signed by 1,800 faith leaders from across the country also includes the signatures of 162 faith leaders from Massachusetts.

The brief “acknowledges the diversity of faith traditions that honor the inherent dignity and worth of transgender people and the long-standing presence of transgender people in faith communities, as both lay people and religious leaders.”

It’s signed by members from a number of traditions and religions including Baptists, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, members of the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims. This membership mirrors the diverse group that signed onto Freedom Massachusetts’ faith pledge in support of #TransLawMA.

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