The issue starts with the issuance of Title IX in the United States Education Amendments of 1972 which "prohibits discrimination "on the basis of sex" in educational programs that receive financial assistance from the federal government." This description was intentionally written very brief, and left the interpretation of the amendment up to the executive in power. In 2010, the Obama Administration determined the definition of "sex" was ambiguous, and led to the interpretation that include gender identity. A "Dear Colleague" letter was released, stating that schools that received federal funding (which are most public schools) were obligated to prevent situations that had potential to cause anti-LGBT sentiments and that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) would accept complaints that violated the interpretation on this policy would be accepted for investigation.
After Grimm came out as a transgender boy while attending Gloucester High School and started using male restrooms, the school board introduced policy that "shall be limited to the corresponding biological genders, and students with gender identity issues shall be provided an alternative appropriate private facility." At a school board meeting, Grimm was referred to as a freak and compared to a dog by many a number of speakers. When he refused to use the girls restroom, he was offered a broom closet that had been converted into a makeshift unisex bathroom. He opted instead to use the bathroom in the nurses office.
Gavin contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the school board on the grounds of Title IX. The case went to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and was heard by Judge Robert G. Doumar. Doumar ruled against Grimm, stating that being transgender is a "mental disorder" and that Gavin was a "female who wants to be male" while also going on an off-topic rant about marijuana enforcement and sanctuary cities. Grimm appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the ruling citing the interpretation of federal policy regarding Title IX and condemning Doumar's remarks and suppositions. It sent the case back down to Doumar for further proceedings under the broader reading of Title IX. The school board moved for a rehearing en banc but Appeals declined to rehear the case. Doumar issued a preliminary injunction in Grimm's favor. The Supreme Court stayed the Circuit Court's decision in August 2016, and in October 2016, it agreed to take up the case. The Court reversed its decision to hear the case on March 6, 2017, and vacated the judgment in Grimm's favor citing the Trump administration's withdrawal of the reading of Title IX relied on by the Fourth Circuit.