The ACLU represents the family of a female student denied access to the locker room at her high school because she is transgender. Recently the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that the school was violating the girl’s federally-protected rights. The family has not spoken about this case, seeking to protect their family’s privacy. The mother of the student, however, shared this statement with the ACLU. We are pleased to share it with you.
My husband and I laughed recently when our daughter said her friends say “You’re the most famous anonymous person.” Laughter has been rare these days. That’s because our daughter is “Student A” at the center of the recent controversy over whether a girl who is transgender should be permitted to use the girls’ locker room. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) says yes. Our school district - Township District 211 – insists that students “of the opposite sex” should not be permitted in the girls’ locker room. For the record, we agree with District Superintendent Daniel Cates about not permitting students of the opposite sex in the locker room. But the inconvenient fact for Mr. Cates and his supporters is that our daughter is not “of the opposite sex.” She is a girl.
The District wrongly assumes what many who are not educated about the issue assume; that what makes a girl a girl and a boy a boy is simple anatomy. We believed this, until our daughter came along. Despite early signs – from as young as four, when she declared herself a girl, to the fact that she had mostly girlfriends growing up, played with dolls, begged to wear girls’ clothes, insisted on wearing a Hannah Montana wig while she danced around the living room and was heavily distraught over the male characteristics of her body – we were still shocked and ill-prepared when, at the end of seventh grade, our daughter again told us that she was a girl and had to live openly as one.
This is a difficult concept to grasp. However, just because something is difficult to understand, does not mean we should mock it or deny its existence. When we were struggling to understand, we sought out medical professionals, and support groups. Through this education process, we learned that gender extends beyond the sex a person is assigned at birth. We learned that scientific evidence has determined that gender is also determined by the brain’s anatomy, which is why the sexual characteristics assigned to many at birth are incongruent with their true gender identity. We also learned that one’s gender identity is different from one’s sexual orientation. Most importantly, we learned acceptance.
We then tried to work with our daughter’s educators, our church, family and friends, to mitigate the risk that she would be one of the at least 20 transgender individuals who were brutally murdered this year or one of the more than fifty percent of transgender youth who attempt suicide by the age of 20. We were cautiously optimistic when many of our family and friends expressed support. However, we faced roadblocks early on with the school system.
In Junior High, our daughter was not permitted to use the girls’ restroom or locker room or to participate in girls’ sports. As a result, she was bullied on a daily basis. The emotional toll this took on her broke our heart and we vowed to do all we could to ensure she never had to endure this kind of abuse in High School.
We knew that a big factor in whether our daughter would be fully accepted by her peers was whether the High School would treat her as a girl in all respects. If she was segregated, forced to use separate facilities, it would signal to others that it was acceptable to treat her differently. To ensure our daughter would not be discriminated against, we legally changed her name, obtained a passport which correctly identified her gender as female, submitted medical records to the District which demonstrated she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and was receiving treatment for it including hormone injections.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that my daughter is a girl, the institution that is charged with educating and enlightening our children, was only concerned with her body. The District therefore did not allow her in the girls’ locker room and instead felt compelled to discipline her on several occasions after she did, in fact, dare to use the same facilities as every other girl. The result was devastating to her – there were times she was inconsolable and all we could do was hold her and tell her that we loved her and would continue to advocate on her behalf.
After four months of meeting with the administration, it is the District that left us no other remedy but to file a complaint with the Department of Education with the help of the ACLU of Illinois. Despite the District's best efforts to frame the OCR’s findings as big government’s attempt to regulate at the local level, it is the District that has trampled on the rights of our daughter. The fact that Superintendent Cates has the nerve to state he’s being “bullied” into complying with the law shows he has absolutely no sensitivity or compassion for what my daughter or any other transgender youth in the District has suffered under his policies. It is simply reprehensible and the lowest form of political posturing.
The fact that neighboring school districts have managed to grant transgender youth access to the locker rooms which correspond with their gender identity without any issues only serves to highlight that District 211’s stated concerns are mere subterfuge for discrimination. The only real fear is that which my daughter faces now and probably will for the rest of her life – fear that she will never be truly accepted by society, fear that she will never get married and have a family and, most concerning, fear that she will be harmed by people who are threatened by her very existence.
Some of the opinions and comments on this case have been hurtful and difficult to read; still, we are pleased that the issue is in the public discourse. We are hopeful that those with open minds and hearts will come to a place of acceptance. And we are thankful for the courageous voices of those who came before us and those who stand beside us in this journey for justice. And while our daughter will continue to remain anonymous for now, she is well-represented by the thousands of transgender youth who are fighting for the right to live their true authentic selves.