On Monday, February 27, the majority of city councilmembers entered into the national debate over the use of bathrooms for transgender students. During a closed-session meeting, a majority of councilmembers voted to file an amicus brief — a legal document filed by non-litigants in court cases — to the Supreme Court in support of a Virginia transgender boy named Gavin Grimm, who sued his school board over his right to use the student bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity.
Grimm, known as G.G. in court documents, was born a female but transitioned to male with help of hormone therapy during his freshman year at a Gloucester County, Virginia, high school. At the beginning of his sophomore year in high school, Grimm and his mother notified high school administrators that he identified as a male and in part would begin to transition in all social aspects, including use of the men's restroom. A few months later some parents of students complained to school officials. In December 2014, school-board officials adopted a policy prohibiting transgender students from using communal bathrooms in favor of private individual bathrooms instead.
The American and Civil Liberties Union sued the school board on Grimm's behalf for violating his 14th Amendment rights as well as for overstepping Title IX protections aimed at preventing schools from discriminating against students based on gender.
In October 2016, U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed to hear the case after the school board petitioned it to overturn a lower court's ruling that ruled in favor of Grimm and other transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
For San Diego's city council the vote did not come without some amount of controversy. The five democratic councilmembers voted in in favor while District 7 representative Scott Sherman voted against submitting the request. Councilmembers Kersey, Zapf, and Cate were absent. The controversy surfaced shortly after the vote in a memo issued by councilmember Chris Cate.
Cate blasted city attorney Mara Elliott for bringing the question to the council in the first place. Cate accused Elliott of "plunging the City of San Diego into divisive national policies versus doing her duty to put local criminals, such as illegal pot-shop owners, domestic violence abusers, and sex traffickers, behind bars."
Read Cate’s official statement, "There is nothing about this lawsuit that I disagree with. I have stood, and will continue to stand, with my colleagues and advocate for equal rights for the LGBT community. The fact is, our City Attorney is failing San Diego right now by focusing on bringing divisive ‘DC politics’ to San Diego."
Elliott wasted no time firing back at the District 6 representative. In a press release, Elliott refuted Cate's charges that she was playing politics. To the contrary, the city attorney stated in a dueling press release that it would have been more political for her to not bring the question to the council. Elliott said her office received a request from San Francisco's board of supervisors to issue an amicus brief; sitting on it would have meant she was making a decision for the council.
"The allegation is baseless. As City Attorney, I am obligated by the Rules of Professional Conduct to bring amicus requests to my client, the City Council. As the City’s policy makers, the City Council may vote to have the City join or not join an amicus brief."
Elliott added that the city has repeatedly tried to address the rights of transgender people, most recently in 2015 when the council voted against entering into any contract with companies that discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
Meanwhile, democratic councilmembers David Alvarez and Georgette Gomez stated their support for entering the national debate.
“Signing onto the Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. Amicus Brief is yet another sign that our city stands by our LGBTQ community and ensures all San Diegans are treated with dignity and respect," read a statement from councilmember Georgette Gomez.
"I am very happy to say that the City of San Diego made the right choice to sign onto the amicus brief, given the hostile political climate towards our LGBTQ families; especially our transgender youth. As a queer Latina, I am proud to support this just cause."