January 30, 2015

Transgender school-bathroom use petition circulating at North

A Madisonville-North Hopkins High School student has created a petition asking the school district to accommodate transgender students with regard to the use of school restrooms.

The petition, which currently has more than 50 signatures, demands that transgender students have the right to use the bathroom of their choosing, rather than a handicap bathroom the students are being asked to use.

The petition also insists that school staff call transgender students by their chosen pronoun, 17-year-old Ashley Marks, the petition's author and a transgender student at the school, said.

'Transgender students have to use the handicap bathroom and we don't agree with that,' he said. 'They should be able to use the bathroom of their choice.'

MNHHS student Justice Mitchell, 17, said she has friends who are transgender, and she has signed the petition because she does not agree with current bathroom procedures.

'I think (transgender students) should use the bathroom that they want to,' Mitchell said. 'I don't like the way people treat them. It's not 
fair to treat someone badly because they aren't like you.'

The 'Kentucky Student Privacy Act,' a bill introduced into the senate Jan. 9 by Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, would ban transgender students from using school restrooms and locker rooms that don't fit their anatomical sex.

The bill, SB76, also allows students to sue the school $2,500 each time they find a person of the opposite biological gender in a bathroom or locker room.

'The Kentucky Family Foundation gave me the draft and I filed it on their behalf,' Embry said. 'Reportedly, they have received a number of contacts from parents (of students from Atherton High School in Louisville) who are concerned about the issue and felt that it should be addressed.'

Kent Ostrander, the executive director of the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said the school's policies were problematic. 'On one hand, the school is correct in wanting to be sensitive to a student that is conflicted, or determining their gender identity,' he said, 'but on the other hand, the solution they came up with violates the privacy rights of every other student.' In the Hopkins County School District, there are no policies regarding the use of school bathrooms by transgender students, according to Communications and Community Engagement Specialist Lori Harrison.

'It is unchartered territory,' Hopkins County Schools Superintendent Linda Zellich said. 'To my knowledge, there's not any law regulating that right now. As individual students present things to us, we're going to deal with them individually.' Zellich said she had not seen the petition as of Thursday evening.

'I got in a lot of trouble at my school for starting this petition,' Marks said. 'I got called to the principal's office because I sent an email around to all my teachers asking them for their help. Multiple school officials were asking me questions about it.

'They kept telling me it wasn't an interrogation, but it seemed like one,' he continued. 'I don't think they understand the concept of what I am trying to do. One of them didn't even know what transgender meant. He had to Google it in front of me.' Zellich was aware that MNHHS staff spoke with a student about the petition, she said.

'I have not talked to a student,' Zellich said. 'I do not want to say much more than that because I don't want to violate any students' rights. I just don't feel comfortable doing that. I think we just have to deal with them as they come to us. 'Our first job is to see they get an education, but we want them to get that education in a safe environment and we have to protect the rights of all children as best we can,' she continued. 'If that is what that child wants, then they have to let it be known.'

If a student organizes a meeting with a principal about an issue, Zellich said she expects that principal to present the information to her.

'If that didn't occur, then I would expect the child or the child's parents to make contact with me so we can work through it,' she said. 'That is what works best for everybody — one-on-one conversations — because we can talk about more things.' The proposed bill could potentially increase school bullying, according to Jordan Palmer, the president and founder of the Kentucky Equality Federation, which is a member of the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

'If you are a man dressed like a woman and you are going into a man's bathroom, what are the other students going to think?' he said. 'I think that they are just trying to put a patch on something that is a greater issue. They are looking at it only from a heterosexual point of view and they can't do that.

'It's a double-edged sword,' he continued. 'We've condemned the legislation, but at the same time we find ourselves in agreement with (Embry's) comment that there is no perfect solution. I don't think that there will be a perfect solution until they have bathrooms specifically for trans people.'

Embry has only received emails complaining about transgender bathroom policies from females and parents of students, he said. 'I think we should make an accommodation where transgender students are not put into a situation where they are causing other people to be uneasy,' Embry said. 'Seems like common sense to have boys use the boys' restroom and girls use the girls' restroom. Accommodations should be made for others. We don't want them to have any problems either.'

Ostrander agreed.

'(Transgender students) are not the ‘boogeyman,'' he said. 'You know young people. Young people are all foolish. We've all been there. Who would be harassed more? A transgender student who is coming out of a third bathroom that is earmarked for them, or a transgender male coming out of a woman's bathroom?'

Students Palmer has spoken with are 'terrified' that Embry's bill will become law, he said.

'We had a trans female that looks like a male — with facial hair and everything — say that he would not feel comfortable in, and would not go into, a ladies' restroom,' Palmer said. 'As a gay male with a lot of trans friends, I can relate to the psychological torture that they go through. It's not easy for them.

'Their body is telling them one thing and their mind is telling them another,' he continued. 'I have a very close friend that is female and he tapes his breasts down. He doesn't want anyone to see them. He has blood clots from taping his breasts to his body so tightly. He is so ashamed of them he says there are days he just wants to die because he has them.'

Two weeks ago, Marks said he overdosed on medication due to harassment from students at MNHHS.

'I was sent to Deaconess Hospital for a week because I was suicidal,' Marks said. 'Kids were harassing me and my friends on the Internet. My mom is having trouble accepting me for who I am, and my dad is really religious. Since I've been out of the hospital, they've both been more accepting of me. It took that to get it.'

Marks disagrees with government imposed fines related to SB76, he said.

'I think it is disrespectful that you can sue because you saw someone in a restroom,' Marks said. 'You don't see body parts as it is. What they do and what restroom they want to use is no one's business but their own.'

The $2,500 fine would be 'inflicted against the school,' not the student, Embry said.

'If school administrators chose not to obey it and to allow things to go on as presently, in opposition to the law, then the school would be subject to fines,' he said. 'The transgender student would not be subject to the fine. Nothing is aimed at that person. It would be at the school for not obeying the law.'

Zellich is aware of Embry's proposed bill, she said.

'I just have to wait and see what the final outcome is,' Zellich said. 'If there becomes specific language that we must as a school system do, then I'm obligated under the law to apply that law to the best of my ability.'

Embry said he believes the issue needs to be discussed 'with both sides present.'

'Then there would be a better understanding of everyone's viewpoints,' he said.

Palmer agreed.

'If they want to file legislation like that, what they should do is get representatives from organizations like Kentucky Equality Federation, Marriage Equality Kentucky, and Lexington Fairness and have a hearing on that issue,' he said. 'We're also talking about the same House and Senate that has never had a hearing on a statewide equality law, so … it will never happen.'