Episcopal Church Leaders Signal Support for Transgender Student in Supreme Court Case

(Photo: Crystal Cooper/ACLU of Virginia/Handout via Reuters)Student Gavin Grimm, who was barred from using the boys' bathroom at his local high school in Gloucester County, Virginia, U.S. is seen in an undated photo. Grimm was born a female but identifies as a male.

Over 1,800 religious leaders, including those representing left-leaning Mainline denominations, have signed onto an amicus brief sent to the United States Supreme Court in support of a Virginia transgender high school student who sued their school district for the right to use the boys' bathrooms and locker rooms.

The case, which was filed against the Gloucester County School Board, marks the first time America's highest court will take up the issue of transgender rights. The school board appealed to the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the transgender student, Gavin Grimm, last spring.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court received a number of amicus briefs in support of Grimm. Meanwhile, a number of briefs supporting the school board were submitted in January.

Among the briefs submitted in support of Grimm on Thursday was one that included as signatories a number of leaders from Mainline American Christian denominations, including leaders in the Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ.

The brief was signed by the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop the Rev. Michael Bruce Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, the president of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies.

Both Curry and Jennings serve as the presiding officers of the Episcopal Church's General Convention and are the chair and vice chair of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council who presided over the Episcopal Church's decision in 2016 to adopt a resolution affirming its support for laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression and opposition to legislation that would take away discrimination protections for transgender individuals.

Another signatory on the on brief is the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the representative body of 900,000-member denomination.

Other religious organizations named in the brief include leaders from the The Jewish Theological Seminary, the Rabbinical Assembly, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Covenant Network of Presbyterians, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and other left-leaning religious institutions and leaders.

"Amici come from faiths that have approached issues related to gender identity in different ways over the years, but are united in believing that the fundamental human dignity shared by all persons requires treating transgender students like Gavin Grimm in a manner consistent with their gender identity," the brief reads. "Amici also believe that, in our diverse and pluralistic society, the civil rights of transgender persons must be addressed according to religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law."

The brief was filed by attorneys at the New York City-based law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel.

"In the past year, the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop and president of the House of Deputies affirmed in an open letter to their church 'the civil rights and God-given dignity of transgender people,' and the United Church of Christ publicly reaffirmed its own longstanding commitment to transgender inclusion," the brief explains. "Setting forth its own stance of 'respect for the inherent dignity of all persons,' the United Methodist Church 'deplore[s] acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on ... gender identity.'

"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also has urged respect for gender identity difference, while the Presbyterian Church (USA) asserted over a decade ago that 'the love of God is not confined to the people ... of one gender or gender orientation,'" the brief continued. "Likewise, one Meeting (among others) of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has formally stated its 'understand[ing] that God, who loves all people unconditionally, is leading the Meeting to honor the gender identity of each person, as that person determines it.'"

In defense of the school board, briefs have been filed by the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, the Liberty Council, the National Organization for Marriage, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, attorneys generals from at least 21 states and other conservative groups that believe it's wrong to give boys access to girls' bathrooms, locker rooms and showers, even if they identify as female, when many girls and parents are uncomfortable with such a situation.

The Alliance Defending Freedom brief explains that "the court has long recognized that local school boards have broad discretion in the management of school affairs."

"We are therefore in full agreement with petitioners that local school boards must be permitted 'to establish and apply their curriculum in such a way as to transmit community values,' and that 'there is a legitimate and substantial community interest in promoting respect for authority and traditional values be they social, moral, or political,'" the ADF brief reads.

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