A transgender child’s victory

A third-grader in New Hampshire scores one for LGBT equality in the elementary-school bathroom

Topics: LGBT, Education, Parenting, New Hampshire, Transgender, equality,

A transgender child's victory

A child raises a hand in the classroom and asks to go to the bathroom. The teacher excuses the student, who goes into the hall, down a corridor, and pushes open a door. It’s a simple, everyday request. But in this case, it’s a victory.

A transgender third-grader in New Hampshire has won the right to be treated as a girl in her school community — including being allowed to use the girls’ room. Score one for tolerance, and the increasing strides grown-ups are making in understanding that gender isn’t always definitively settled the moment a baby is born, nor is orientation only figured out in adolescence or beyond. Children are a lot more complex than that.

The girl’s triumph is a well-earned one. Her family — who have chosen to remain anonymous — told the Nashua Telegraph that after last year’s winter break she returned to the second grade fully female-identified. She was dressing as a girl and using a female name. The school initially accepted her as female, but, the parents say, the staff began addressing her as a male and “the child was ultimately separated from her classmates, seated in a single desk in a room of shared tables and was no longer allowed to use the girls’ restroom.” Isolated and despondent, the girl’s “behavioral issues increased” until the family removed her from the school. She finished out the year with tutors.

The child is now at a new school, where the district superintendent Mark Conrad acknowledges, “The issues that public schools must often address mirror the broader issues in our society … It’s our policy not to discriminate against any student, and that would include transgender students.” The district has agreed to treat the girl “the same as all female students in every aspect,” including using her female name in school records, and letting her use the girls’ room. Furthermore, her transgender status is considered “confidential medical information” that can only be shared among “appropriate and necessary” staff. It’ll be up to the child and her family to decide whether to reveal that she’s transgender — as it should be. Kudos to the district, and to the child’s parents for putting the needs of the girl first, and for being so encouraging of her right to be herself.

Equal rights are won in ways both large and small. Earlier this year, Baltimore County barred discrimination “on the basis of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation when it comes to housing, employment, public accommodations, and financing.” That decision came after Chrissy Lee Polis, a 22-year-old transgender woman, was brutally beaten by two teenagers when she attempted to use a McDonald’s bathroom.

The local New Hampshire school community still doesn’t have a formal policy on rights for LGBT students, though Nashua’s Ward 4 Selectman Stacie Laughton, the state’s first transgender elected official, told the Union Leader, “I think the schools could use some guidance, and I think there should be a policy in place.” And Janson Wu, an attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders who represented the family in its discussions with the district, told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 this week, “Children often have difficulty having schools respect them for who they believe they are. If a transgender girl wants to be able to wear feminine clothes to school and be addressed as a girl, oftentimes we see schools feeling a fair amount of discomfort around that.” As evidence, look no further than the comments on the story on Café Mom, where posters have dismissed the child’s orientation as “mental illness” and said, “My son knew he was Spider-Man when he was 7. Should I have made the school accommodate his desire?” Because, of course, fantasy role-playing and the gender at the core of your being are totally the same thing.

Wu says, “I think that as the environments become more and more welcoming to transgender and gender-variant youth, we’re going to see a lot more students coming out. And that’s something that schools and parents will need to be prepared to deal with.”

The right to be treated with dignity, the right to move freely through the world, to be seen for who you truly are, is supposed to extend to every person in America. That includes those who still climb on monkey bars and carry Justin Bieber backpacks. And every student deserves a family that supports and advocates for him or her, and a school environment that’s safe and sensitive. A child in New Hampshire has that, and because she does, she opens up that possibility for every student — gay, straight and transgender alike – to have it as well. Sometimes you open a door and it leads to a small room with sinks and stalls. Sometimes you open a door, and it leads to acceptance and tolerance and respect.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>