A few years ago transgender issues, like transgender individuals, were all but invisible to school officials across the country. No longer. Transgender student access on athletic teams and in locker rooms at public schools is now a matter districts are confronting directly as more and more teenagers feel increasingly comfortable enabling what they feel is their true gender identity.
In states like Illinois, Texas and Missouri there have been high-profile cases involving student access to locker rooms and bathrooms, and in most cases legal rulings have come down forcing school districts to make accommodations for the transgender student. This fall in Illinois, federal education officials have ruled that an Illinois school would illegally discriminate against a transgender student if it did not let her use the girls locker room without restrictions, rejecting a plan to have her change beyond privacy curtains.
Nothing that dramatic has yet happened in Flagler County. But the district is hoping to be at the forefront of the issue, even though for now there is no official district-wide policy regarding transgender student access to locker rooms or sports teams of a gender different from that on a student’s birth certificate. Situations are handled on a case by case, school by school basis, usually a recipe for missteps or discrimination, especially when following state guidelines.
An examination of the state of transgender understanding and accommodations, including a state policy on transgenders and some local attitudes about the policy, strongly suggests that the state and, to some extent, Flagler County, have a long way to go to ensure that transgender students are treated not only fairly and equitably, but that the environment they face is more nurturing than questioning, more welcoming than inhibiting.
Kristy Gavin, the attorney for Flagler County schools, has a special interest in this topic and gave a presentation to the Florida School Board Association in Tampa on Thursday (Dec. 3).
Gavin, who said she was asked to be on a panel explaining and exploring transgender issues by the superintendents’ association, said that dealing with transgender questions in schools will be become more and more common, so it’s imperative that school officials learn how to properly handle them.
“We can’t ignore this topic just because in Flagler County it is just starting to surface as a subject matter,” Gavin said. “You can’t get caught flat-footed.”
The main focus of Gavin’s remarks were telling administrators that there’s no reason physical education needs to be a curriculum area separated by gender.
“P.E. is P.E., it’s all co-ed now, and gone are the days where if a girl wants to play on the football team, she can’t do it,” Gavin said. “So when it comes to transgender, make it a non-gender issue. Take gender out of the equation in terms of it being curriculm for everyone.”
Officials at both Matanzas High School and Flagler Palm Coast High School say that transgender access issues haven’t really cropped up, and School Board President Colleen Conklin said that “we as a board really haven’t had much discussion about the issue, and it hasn’t been brought up to us by parents or students, either.” That said, she spoke from Tampa, where she was attending the same statewide school board association meeting that included Gavin’s panel discussion.
Both FPC principal Dusty Sims and Matanzas principal Earl Johnson said there had not been an issue that they were aware of in recent years of a student wanting to compete on a sports team for a gender other than their birth gender.
Johnson said there was one transgender student this year, a female, who asked for an accommodation in the locker room because “she didn’t feel comfortable dressing for gym class in either locker room,” Johnson said.
The accommodation that was made for the student was that she was allowed to leave her fourth period class, the one before physical education, 5 to 10 minutes before the bell and change in the empty locker room.
“I think our first goal has to be to provide equal and fair opportunities for our kids,” said Sims, a longtime baseball coach at FPC. “I’m not one to define gender. My goal is that if a kid wants to participate in athletics, how can I allow that kid to be successful, and to be comfortable.”
Gavin said locker rooms may be “a hot-button issue,” but maintaining everyone’s safety and making sure they have a safe space can be accomplished by simply meeting with the transgender student and finding out “where that individual’s mind is, and what they are comfortable with when it comes to that.
“A transgender girl still has girl parts, a transgender boy still has boy parts,” Gavin said. “What we recommend is that you take each situation step by step; if the transgender student is OK changing in the girls or boys locker room, maybe he or she does it in a separate area. Each situation is different.” But the separate-but-equal standard is precisely the standard the Illinois case led to federal intervention.
Gavin brought up an interesting point about transgender-school issues that isn’t talked about much: What happens when a teacher has gender identity issues?
“That would be a harder thing to deal with, having a kindergarten teacher, Mr. Smith, come in one day and tell the students that he’s now Mrs. Smith,” Gavin said. “How you explain that to the students is something (school administrators) have to start thinking about.”
While locker room access and accommodations issues are still murky in Flagler County and elsewhere, the issue of transgender athletes playing on sports teams has been thoroughly legislated and discussed.
The Florida High School Athletic Association saw several state athletic associations in the past decade lose lawsuits over lack of transgender athlete access and regulations, so in 2011, Executive Director Roger Dearing said, he and his fellow administrators at the Tallahassee-based regulatory body went to work to craft a coherent policy.
Dearing said they consulted with doctors, lawyers, psychologists “and everyone else involved in these issues,” and came up with a policy that he said replicated nearly exactly what the NCAA had put in place for college sports.
What resulted was rule 4.3 in the FHSAA rulebook, with guidelines for “Gender Identity Participation.” What a transgender student has to go through to be declared eligible to compete in a sport of a different gender than they were born with sounds remarkably rigorous, if not burdensome to the point of discrimination.
First, after the student has notified his or her athletics director and principal that they wish to play a sport opposite of their birth gender, the student needs to provide a birth certificate, proof of residency and a written statement affirming their desire to play on the new team. Next the student needs to provide written documentation from friends, teachers and other adults who have known the student for more than a year testifying that “this change is consistent with who this person is, how they have been acting and behaving for a while now,” Dearing said. (The requirement is no less absurd than Sharia or Islamic law’s requirement that a rape victim prove that she was raped through the testimonies of four male witnesses.)
Then, in what appears to skirt the violation of medical-privacy laws, the student has to put forth a list of all prescribed or non-prescribed medications they take, show written verification from a health-care professional of the student’s intended gender change, and finally, have a hearing before what the FHSAA calls “The Gender Identity Eligibility Committee.”
This committee is made up of a physician with World Pro Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) experience, a mental health professional with experience in transgender issues, a school administrator, athletics director and coach in that sport from outside the applying student’s administrative section (i.e., people from a Tampa school in a case involving a Jacksonsville-area student), and an outside individual chosen by the FHSAA.
The committee interrogates the student via a webinar, and a vote is taken among the six committee members that day, declaring whether or not the student is able to compete in the sport they’re comfortable with.
Dearing said there have been “fewer than 10” hearings under the policy so far. If a student’s request is denied, they can file a second appeal. Dearing said of the students who’ve been rejected so far, none have asked for a second appeal.
Asked if this is all a bit much for a transgender student to have to endure, Dearing replied: “not at all.”
“A student who is born a boy has every chance to play on boys sports teams, and a girl who is born a girl has every chance to play on girls sports teams,” Dearing said. “The federal courts have established the rules for this, as has the NCAA, and we’re just following that. We’ve not had one complaint from anyone (having a hearing) that it was too embarrassing or humiliating to go through.”
But the low number of hearings in itself suggests the FHSAA process is inherently intimidating.
Daniel Tilley, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who specializes in transgender cases, was aghast when shown the FHSAA policy.
“This policy is beyond the pale,” Tilley said. “It humiliates transgender students by singling them out for scrutiny. A trans boy is a boy and a trans girl is a girl, regardless of what a “Gender Identity Eligibility Committee” says.”
Matanzas’ principal Johnson and FPC’s principal Sims both said they had no problem with the FHSAA’s policy.
“The policy is necessary and is in place because if it were not, you’d have athletes who’d want to go from a male sport to a female sport all the time,” Johnson said, though without evidence to that effect. Asked if he really thought that would happen, Johnson replied: “you never know.”
Clearly, transgender issues are not going away, and what school administrators need to be mindful of as well is the psychological damage such scrutiny can do to a transgender student. That’s assuming the student is willing to come out of the shadows and reveal his or her chosen gender.
Dr. David Baker-Hargrove is a psychotherapist and president of Two Spirit Health Services in Orlando who specializes in dealing with transgender patients. He said his practice gets 5-6 new patients each week who are having gender identity issues, some as young as 4 years old.
“The locker room issue is a major concern for these transgender students,” Baker-Hargrove said. “You have the shame issue, and the comfortability issue, because you never know how the other students are going to react. It’s very hard standing out when you’re a teenager, and because of the public stigma around being transgender, it’s so much more stark for these kids.”
Baker-Hargrove said he and his fellow psychologists work to give transgender students the “emotional tools” they need to cope with being in school, such as teaching them that how they carry themselves and creating their own level of comfort can go a long way toward acceptance.
“Visibility is what reduces stigma and fear, and I feel that for transgender students now it’s a little like what gay students had to endure in the 1970s and ’80s,” Baker-Hargrove said. “Now I talk to gay students and they’re completely accepted and a part of the student body, doing whatever they want to do. One day, I hope that will be the same for transgender students as well.”
What about a girls right not to see “boy parts” in the girl locker room?
The pussification of America continues…
Remember history & the fall of the Roman Empire after approx. 400 years?
Same thing is happening here. Not in our lifetime but not to much longer…
Perhaps Kristy Gavin just misspoke, but she got it exactly backwards when she referred to girl parts and boy parts. A trans girl (or transwoman) is someone who was born biologically male but psychologically feels female. A Trans boy (or transman) started biologically male but has come to feel and act masculine.
And I got it mixed up myself for trans boys….they have female genitalia but identify as male.
THE VOICE OF REASON says
I’m as progressive as the next guy, and moreso than most but my thinking is if you weren’t born with the right parts then you’re not female, no matter what you wish to be, anymore than the woman in the news recently who was born white and pretended to be black.
Brad W says
“So when it comes to transgender, make it a non-gender issue. Take gender out of the equation in terms of it being curriculm for everyone.”
So what about those who don’t think it is appropriate to “Take gender out of the equation in terms of it being curriculm for everyone.” ? Because this creates the exact situation that Marvelous brings up with gender-specific facilities such as locker rooms and restrooms. Is Ms. Gavin suggesting that we should have now communal restrooms and locker rooms in our schools? Is there an overwhelming call by the good majority of parents that we actually do remove gender “from the equation”? How many parents actually want that?
I see chauvinistic, bigotry in Flagler county unfortunately again and again rears its blatantly ignorant head. Hoping the “sky that is falling” lands appropriately. . . perhaps with a grandchild who needs loving support.
Our world is changing. . . not always for the better, perhaps. . . but the world of old macho white guys beating their chests and ruling over everyone else is quickly slipping away. . . PERMANENTLY! Make your peace with it or parish in despair. . . most don’t care!
Why the “pussication?” Why not the dickification? Isis exemplifies the dickification of culture. Typical, something is wrong in society, and you try to essentially blame it on being too soft. The recent terrorist acts show the dickification of our culture, along with everything else.
“A student who is born a boy has every chance to play on boys sports teams,….” Dearing said.
Actually that is the same argument used to justify miscegenation laws of the past. Before being overturned by the US Supreme Court (Loving v. Virginia, 1967) a number of states had laws making marriage between people of different races illegal. The argument made by the states was that any black man could marry any black woman and vice versa. The SCUSA recognized that as an excuse. Behind the legal opinions was racism, plain and simple.
In this matter its easy to see that the reasoning behind making a transgender student jump through so many hoops, some of which might be illegal, is transphobia and homophobia.
let the hormones run wild!!!! thats what is happening here….this is bullshit let the kid go behind a screen if necessary in same locker room if that uncomfortable! they are STILL going to be taunted one way or the other no amount of counseling is going to help this one way or another kids will always be kids!!!!
Samuel L. Bronkowitz says
I think the only pussies I see here in this comment section are the ones that are so uncertain about their own sexuality that they have to ridicule others for theirs.
There are apparently some men commenting here being true dicks. If you are that confident in your own masculinity, you aren’t threatened by people who have different orientations. Our culture is so dickified at times, that we fail to have a heart.
David B says
We now have a generation of kids that have no confident, no self esteem, no strength. This generation is so soft. Parents don’t raise kids anymore, Kids raise parents. What a lost generation. Tomorrows leaders ?? Yeah right. Tomorrows underachiever
Another example of liberals creating a solution in desperate need of a problem. We have attorneys, psychologists, coaches, etc. spending time and resources on a situation we haven’t yet encountered here. I will tell you one thing: the day they allow a naked person with a penis in my daughter’s locker room is the day she will pulled out of public school. You all can waste your time fretting about .00001% of the population; I am more concerned with the rest.
Nancy N. says
“pussification” – just another example of the ingrained misogyny in our culture, that a term associated with female genitalia is used in such a denigrating way to mean feminizing something. Because apparently making something more female is such a horrible thing.
My dog wants to be a cat…I won’t allow it . He won’t fit in the litter box !
just me says
This is just dumb. if you ARE a boy use the boys locker room if you ARE a girl use the girls locker room. Just because a boy “feels” like a girls does not change him to a girl or the other way around. Why do we need to subject all the other normal yes normal kids to this PC BS. Yes maybe the school could find a place for the kid to change on their own instead of using a locker room they feel uncomfortable using and the other kids uncomfortable with a kid of the opposite gender in it with them.
This may come as a shock to many, but life really doesn’t have to be this complicated.
Local TransWoman says
I graduated from FPC about a decade ago, and would have loved to had come out back when I was still in school; but fear kept me closeted until I got out of HS. Good to see the type of people I was afraid of still live in this county, maybe you can throw stones at me while I’m shopping at Publix.
Are you serious says
Good to know that the county I live in doesn’t even accept it’s own citizens properly if they were to come out as trans. If you really think that the mental health and stability of an adolescence in your own county doesn’t matter because of the thought that you care about what’s in their pants then THAT is what’s wrong with today’s society. I personally wouldn’t care if a trans student decided to change within the same locker room as I because they feel more comfortable in that scenario and I believe they have the right to feel comfortable and welcomed if they are doing something they would rather enjoy. You really need to put yourself in the position of those individuals facing the complications being put in front of them and understand what they have to go through to not face the anxiety, dysphoria, and depression they have been facing for most likely quite a while.
Are we over sensitizing this? There are some things that’s simple. This is one of them. There are stalls in the bathrooms with doors for privacy. No ones feelings should be hurt if they close the door. We’re born male or female. Bathrooms are designated the same. Hormonal or other instances are private and are hidden behind those closed doors and this over indulgence on this topic is overkill. There are other issues that’s passed over.
I see a lot of name calling and a lot of ignorance. Is it truly that hard for anyone to understand the concerns on both sides. The situation is this….I personally have no concern what a person identifies as…my beliefs are different and I will keep them to myself…but if you were born John, and somewhere in your life you chose for what ever reason to become Jane…more power to you. Now Jane feels like we should give her some set of rights that I see so much discussion on…civil liberties act…discrimination….so basically Jane and all her supporters think that we are infringing on her rights. OK… so Jane is a very minuscule minority in our society…let s say 1% for arguments sake but I am pretty sure it is less that that. So we are going to ignore, negate or disregard the rights, the concerns the feelings of 99% of the population to be sure that we do not supposedly negate the 1%. Personally I do not believe that we can assess rights to every single issue that arises…there are people who identify as wolves….so when they eat your dog and crap in your yard…make sure you do not infringe on their right to identify as they see themselves. Should we provide an individual in these circumstances with a restroom/locker area that they can use privately? Absolutely …amazing how I am willing to find a solution that does not force this individual to change or use the restroom with the same sex of their birth, because if they are a boy that identifies as a girl…undressing in front of boys may be embarrassing. So we solve that problem…of course because that really isn’t what this is all about…thats not an acceptable solution….lets see what are the arguments….well they are being discriminated against…how…they made a choice that made them different..and you can call it what you want believe what you want…a human born as a boy/male….that dresses and wants to be a female is different….1% or less is different. I am happy for anyone boy or girl who feels that they identify as the opposite sex..and is happy dressing and becoming the opposite sex in the mind, but the majority of this population has the right to be able to go to restrooms or locker rooms, my daughter has the right to go to a locker room at her school and expect that she will not be seen or see a boy in that room. If this basic concept is hard for you to understand then you have larger problems in your life than this.