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Big Business Takes Transgender Rights to SCOTUS

A coalition of 53 companies have signed on to a brief supporting a Virginia high school student who has brought his fight to use the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity to the Supreme Court. (Bookmark the brief; it’s a full-throated defense of transgender rights, and well worth your time.) The companies include Fortune stalwarts Amazon, Apple, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft. Read a full list here.

The question at hand is whether the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia violated a federal anti-discrimination law two years ago when they prevented Gavin Grimm, now 17 years old, from using the bathroom of his choice. But now, with the addition of corporate heft, the question has broadened considerably. More on that in a moment.

Grimm is an unlikely but important champion for transgender rights, a kid who has become a public figure at a time when most teenagers would prefer to just blend in and figure themselves out on their own. From a Washington Post profile:

There was nothing remarkable about Gavin Grimm’s first trip to the boys’ bathroom at Gloucester High School. It was a little more than a month into his sophomore year, when the transgender teenager had begun quietly reintroducing himself to the student body as a boy.

Grimm had used men’s restrooms at restaurants, stores and the local amusement park, and using the boys’ bathroom at his school felt like “the natural progression of things,” he said. Just like cutting his hair short, just like wearing baggy pants and graphic T-shirts, just like beginning testosterone shots. He started using the boys’ bathroom shortly after he got word from Principal Nate Collins that it would be okay.

It all became quite remarkable when the community had a different view of the bathroom matter. Suddenly Grimm’s tale became a legal fight: He sued the school district last year, claiming his civil rights had been violated. Late last August, the school board asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, and oral arguments are now scheduled for March 28.

“We didn’t set out to do anything,” his father David Grimm, a trades supervisor at a local shipyard told the Washington Post. “Only thing we’ve done is try to protect our child. And that is what it means, and that takes whatever form it takes.”

And now a group of mostly tech companies are attempting to make the case that the issue extends far beyond the halls of a local high school. “The correlation between having LGBT-friendly policies and financial success is significant. Undermining those policies through discriminatory school policies is bad for business,” says the brief. They say a wrong decision will also harm their employees with transgender children and employees who are themselves are transgender.[C]oncerned about the stigmatizing and degrading effects” of the policy adopted by the school board, they say that “gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.”

In a season marked by open letters, the brief is a particularly bold move. “Companies will be judged by their words, deeds, and actions,” says Chris Allieri, founder of marketing and communications firm Mulberry & Astor. He’s also a board member for The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis services to LGBTQ youth. He’s seen first hand what allyship can mean. “Good corporate leaders are listening to their customers and their employees and being asked to do the right thing. This isn’t about some left-leaning CEOs tweeting on the coasts, but big marquee American brands standing up for what’s right.”

On Point

Learn from the best companies to work for over cocktails with me……And Alan Murray, our content chief, and the rest of the Fortune gang. On March 9th, we’ll be unveiling our 20th anniversary edition of our 100 Best Companies to Work For list, one of Fortune‘s most popular franchises, read by millions of people throughout the year. RaceAhead readers in New York are invited to join us at our offices to hear from top executives of three of the companies on the list—Accenture, Kimpton Hotels, and Edward Jones—on how to build great, inclusive, workplaces. You can RSVP below.  Fortune Events

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Time

Quote

I had been, the night before, absolutely catatonic with grief, because I knew that I was going to wake up the next day and I was going to be the birthday girl. And I thought I just wanted that part of my life to be over. I didn’t think I would be able to make it through another one of those birthdays, and actually, I don’t think I would have.
—Gavin Grimm