Area transgender students face hurdles

ContributedA gender-neutral bathroom at Delaware Academy Central School in Delhi is shown Wednesday. 

A 6-year-old transgender boy was recently told to use the girl’s restroom at his elementary school. When the first-grader didn’t comply, he was told he could either use the faculty bathroom or walk to the other end of the school to use the restroom in the nurse’s office.

The child’s mother, who said she wished to remain anonymous, told The Daily Star on Thursday that she is considering uprooting her family of four from the Capitol Region and bringing them to Schoharie County so her son doesn’t have to deal with situations such as that one.

“We’re just in search of a safe and supportive school community for our son,” who, like many other boys his age, enjoys playing basketball and Minecraft, swimming, playing with friends and being with his family, the mother said. “You would never know that he was born a girl.”

The mother said she and her husband hope to send their son to the small K-12 school in Schoharie County she attended. But they are unsure of how the small community would handle the situation.

“I’m scared that people won’t understand and will be judgmental,” she said. “I wouldn’t want us to come out there and have everyone know that he’s transgender. ... I can just see people being ignorant about it and thinking he’s a tomboyish girl or a lesbian.”

DIGNITY FOR ALL STUDENTS

Terri Cook, an author who’s scheduled to visit Cooperstown this week to speak about being a parent of a transgender child, said the situation — a family choosing to move “just to ensure that their child can be enrolled at a safe and supportive school” — is not uncommon.

That’s partially why the state Education Department created and disseminated a document in July called “Guidance to School Districts for Creating a Safe and Supportive Environment for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students,” which was published under the state’s “Dignity for All Students Act,” Cook said.

The document, which Cook will discuss during her presentation, addresses the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming students, who, pursuant to the Dignity Act, are “entitled to educational programs and activities free of bias-based discrimination and harassment,” it reads.

“All children should be in a safe and inclusive environment, and families shouldn’t have to move to know their child is safe and in an environment where they can learn,” Cook said. “Policies like this one will hopefully change that for families today.”

The 12-page guide, which was sent to all districts statewide and can be found online, gives recommendations to ensure an inclusive environment for transgender students, Cook said. It also includes real-life examples and information to help districts comply with local, state and federal laws concerning bullying, harassment, discrimination and student privacy.

For example, the guide advises schools to accept a student’s assertion of his/her/their own gender identity and use the preferred pronouns.

“A student who says she is a girl and wishes to be regarded that way throughout the school day should be respected and treated like any other girl,” the document reads. “So, too, with a student who says he is a boy and wishes to be regarded that way throughout the school day. Such a student should be respected and treated like any other boy.”

Within the school and school district, when a transgender or gender nonconforming student new to a school is using a chosen name, the birth name should be kept confidential by school and district staff, the document reads.

Further, prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match his or her gender identity is “sex discrimination” under Title IX, according to the document.

“STARTED SEEING

LOTS OF SIGNS”

According to the mother, the family noticed something was different when their child was just 3 years old.

“We started seeing lots of signs,” she said. “She would say ‘I’m not a girl, I’m a boy,’ and at the age of 4, she stopped wearing girl clothes. When playing, she never wanted to be a mommy and would become very upset anytime someone called her a girl.”

The child recently started seeing a counselor, who recognized the gender nonconforming behavior and validated the family’s suspicions, the mother said.

The summer before the child entered kindergarten, the family decided to begin using male pronouns — he and him — when referring to their child, the mom explained. The child also wanted to use a male name to “reflect the way he felt inside.”

The parents spoke with school administration, the mother said, but were met with resistance. The bathroom situation, she said, was the tipping point.

GOING “STEALTH”

If the family decides to move back to Schoharie County, where they have relatives, their child would start school as a boy, and would be “stealth,” meaning he would be “living and presenting as the gender he knows himself to be without others knowing he is transgender,” the mother explained.

The other students in the boy’s class and their parents would not have to know, the mother said, which is exactly how the child wants it to be.

“He doesn’t want to be known as the transgender boy; he just wants to be a boy ... just wants to be himself,” the mother said. “And honestly, kids are so innocent, things like this don’t matter to them at this age. The only people who have issues are the parents.”

The child doesn’t have that chance now, his mother said; school officials have said they will use the child’s legal first name, which is historically a female moniker, in school publications such as the yearbook. This makes the child uncomfortable and upset, she said.

State officials are seeking to avoid just such situations by providing the new guidance document, the state website said.

GENDER-NEUTRAL

BATHROOMS

Jason Thomson, superintendent of Delaware Academy Central School District in Delhi, said his district has had several transgender students and has worked to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment.

“The bottom line is that we respect and embrace all of our students and support them however we can, with what their needs are,” Thomson said, “and that was true even before any of the new guidelines.”

The district has a “nondelineated” bathroom in its elementary, middle and high school, Thomson said. The signage simply reads “Restroom,” he said.

To further foster inclusiveness, the district also uses an intensive bullying-prevention program called Olweus, Thomson said, and has three guidance counselors, a school psychologist and a newly hired social worker. There is also an anonymous online bullying forum, where victims or witnesses can submit incident reports, triggering an investigation by school officials.

“DON’T WANT TO MAKE

THE WRONG CHOICE”

The mother said she reached out to several teachers at the Schoharie County school to “feel out” whether her son would be welcomed and supported there. She doesn’t know of any trans people in the area, she said, so she’s not sure how people would react.

If the family moved, the child would have cousins in his class who knew him before the transition, the mom explained. The family is “always” on the lookout for houses in the Schoharie County area, she said. Her next step is to call the principal.

“He would love to be there,” she said. “He doesn’t want anyone to know he was ever a girl. We’re just not sure. I don’t want to make the wrong choice and then have bullying start. Before we make any decisions, we have to make sure everyone there will be on board.”

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