Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Three Cheers for Gavin Grimm and His Mother

A new story at the Daily Beast tells Gavin Grimm's story in a way that no other I have seen thus far does.  It is not really about the legal issues, but about the personal journey of Gavin and his mother to stand up.  It is about her evolution and Gavin finding his own mature and civil voice while controversy swirls around them:

“He’s supposed to be thinking about senior skip day,” she told The Daily Beast. “That’s not what he’s thinking about. He’s thinking, ‘I’m going to the Supreme Court so they can discuss my genitals and bathroom use some more.’"

It is a surreal position for a mother to be in, which makes Deirdre’s grace under fire even more otherworldly. The hostility directed at her son used to get under her skin. (“I would hear these nasty comments and it would make me mad and I would want to lash back out at these people,” Deirdre said.)

But now, she’s trying to follow Gavin’s advice: Ignore the blatant opponents of transgender equality and “set a positive example and educate in a positive way” for everyone else instead.

. . .

Taking the high road is a strategy that Deirdre says she learned from Gavin who, at that fateful December 2014 school board meeting, countered his adult critics with a heartfelt plea that could go down in the history books: “I’m just a human. I’m just a boy. Please consider my rights when you make your decision.”

Education law cases pose a different set of ethical and personal issues than most other cases.  A few years ago, a mother told me the story of her daughter's long term suspension from public school and assignment to alternative school.  I told her that the facts, as she relayed them to me, were the ones that I had been imaging for some time.   They did not involve dramatic events, but simply ostracizing a high-achieving student for everyday misbehavior--misbehavior that students cannot really resist because it is part of growing up and being social.  These facts drove to the forefront the irrationality of zero tolerance.  I saw them as a vehicle through which I believed a lower court, and potentially the Supreme Court, could put teeth to a substantive due process review of school discipline.  

I told the mother all of that.  I also told her that filing this lawsuit might not be something she wanted to do.  Her daughter's education was ongoing.  She lived in a small community with a single high school.  Even if she sued the district and won, the remedy might not come for some time.  But at the moment she sued, her child might face subtle and or explicit retaliation. Her daughter would certainly draw a lot of attention, which is not necessarily the best thing for a teenage student. Her educational career might be worse off. Ultimately, the family decided to suffer the injustice quietly and enroll the daughter in another school system.  I never second guessed that.  I simply said I am happy to help whatever they decided.

This is what makes Gavin Grimm's story so courageous.  He and his mother had far more privacy on the line than a suspended or disciplined student, which is the typical type of case we see in court, and they pressed forward anyway.  From what I can tell, they pressed forward with full knowledge.  Gavin Grimm and his mother seem to be standing up because they understand this is about far more than just him.  He is willing to make the type of sacrifice that Oliver Brown, Linda Brown (daughter), and countless others during school desegregation made so that other children might go to integrated schools.  Their sacrifice was real.  As indicates:

After the lawsuits were filed, a number of plaintiffs lost their jobs, as did members of their families, and other plaintiffs had their credit cut off. The retaliation was arguably most severe in South Carolina, where whites burned down the house and church of a particularly energized plaintiff, the Reverend Joseph A. DeLaine, and reportedly fired gunshots at him one night. DeLaine ended up fleeing the state, never to return. Judge Waring was also forced out. Facing death threats, he retired from the bench in 1952 and moved to New York City. 

Three cheers for Gavin Grimm and his mother, Deirdre.

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