As a parent, sexuality educator, and concerned community member I jumped head first into the Kalispell School District’s Subcommittee meetings last spring (April 2015) when they were beginning to formulate a new nondiscrimination policy which would include LGBT students. It was important to me that there was someone in that room who was there solely to support those students with no other agenda. I reached out to friends within the Pride Foundation, the Gender Expansion Project, and Love Lives Here, as well as the Gay Straight Alliance facilitator at Flathead High School. I wanted to have as much knowledge given to the Board as they would take and I knew that I would need some support as well.
I quickly found allies on the Board in some of the Trustees who were grateful to absorb and pass on whatever helpful knowledge I had for them. The first meeting that I attended I sat with GSA facilitator, Michael and Pride Foundation LAT volunteer, Cathy. By the next meeting we were joined by Nathan of Love Lives Here, as well. Shortly after the second meeting I attended (which was the third Subcommittee meeting) I received a phone call from the Pride Foundation asking me if I would like to become a Pride Foundation LAT volunteer, replacing one of their exiting volunteers, so that I could continue the community work that I already do with their full support. There was one more Subcommittee meeting to follow this and then they passed the policy onto the School Board.
This began an intense process. Three months worth of public meetings… If you ever want to hear the best…and the worst come out in your neighbors and community members…attend nondiscrimination policy hearings in a small town! The ugliness that I heard, aimed at children, coming out of “good, Christian folks”…I can’t even tell you the feelings of anger that it brought up in me. Luckily, the summer ended with a win as the School Board stood on the right side of history and once again “…the Arc of History bends towards Justice…” as one or more of the School Board Trustees quoted in their closing remarks.
Or does it…
I received an email from my Pride Foundation Organizer, Kim, on October 26th. She received a request from one of our Kalispell School District allies who wanted someone from Pride Foundation to attend the Board meeting on the 27th if possible. On the agenda was the review of a document entitled “Kalispell Public Schools Administrative Guidelines: Working with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students.” Our contact sent us a copy of the document to review and asked us our opinion and asked if we could attend and be present to answer any questions, misconceptions, and be there to support the LGBT students. DONE!
I am going to paste a few areas of the document for you I am not going to share it in its entirety.
“The purposes of these guidelines are:
- To foster inclusive and welcoming learning and working environments that are free from discrimination, harassment and bullying regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression;
- To facilitate compliance with district policy, and state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination, harassment and bullying;
- To align behavior with district beliefs, to include:
- Each student will have fair and equitable opportunity for quality instruction and academic success;
- All students learn when their individual needs are met through a personalized school experience;
- All students learn and work best in a safe, secure, and nurturing environment; and
- Dedication to acknowledging, affirming, and including diversity enriches the educational experiences for all; and
- To provide guidance for staff.“
Beautiful! This looks like it’s going to be a welcoming, affirming document meant to support the wonderful policy that the District spent most of last year working on. The next section goes on to define many different things from Bullying to Gender Expression to Transition. We did suggest a few small edits here & there, but all and all it is a good thing for administrators to understand terminology and how it relates to all of their students. Skipping a few pages of legal mumbo jumbo, which we had no issues with, there is the Pronoun section which we were very pleased with…Good job there Kalispell!
We now arrive at the section titled “Restroom and Locker Room Use.” I am going to cut and paste this section for you:
“Restroom and Locker Room Use
All students are entitled to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that are sanitary, safe, and adequate, so they can comfortably and fully engage in their school program and activities. Schools and
offices maintain separate restrooms and locker rooms for male and female students/employees. Access is allowed based on the gender the student or employee was assigned at birth, unless the student has physically/medically transitioned to the opposite gender. This would require additional documentation.
As a reasonable accommodation to ensure the student has access to educational opportunity, any transgender or gender nonconforming student who is uncomfortable using a shared restroom or locker room of his assigned gender, regardless of the reason; shall, upon request, be provided with a safe and non-stigmatizing alternative.
This may include, for example use of a nearby private restroom, u
se of a “unisex” restroom, use of a private space for changing purposes, etc. Under no circumstances is a student required to use such facilities because they are transgender or gender nonconforming.
Where available, schools are encouraged to designate facilities designed for use by one person at a time as accessible to all students regardless of gender, to remove any inaccurate identifiers such as “Staff Restroom,” and to incorporate such single-user “unisex” facilities into new construction or renovation when possible.
The plan should document the requests and reasonable accommodations, if any.”
I let them know that our primary concerns were the areas I have marked above. For example the average transgender youth won’t “physically/medically” transition while in their school system & MAY not at all, it’s a private decision that they will make at some point in their lives. I explained that there are different types of transitioning: 1] Social: most of what they witness from youth is that (coming out to peers, co-workers, family, changing pronouns, presentation, and social behavior); 2] Legal: changing legal name and legal gender (M/F) on all your paperwork. In the US, usually involves a court order (the district IS NOT requiring this, and WILL allow transgender students to go by a preferred name! Yea!); 3] Medical: hormones and/or surgery to physically change your body (some students may begin hormones while still in the school system IF they have supportive families AND can afford it, but most will wait to begin a medical transition until they are adults).
The reason that we want this changed is that to ask a minor child to “medically/physically transition” before allowing them use the restroom facilities with their peers discriminates against them hence IT UNDOES ALL OF THE HARD WORK THAT THE SCHOOL BOARD HAS BEEN DOING SINCE FEBRUARY ON THEIR BEAUTIFUL NONDISCRIMINATION POLICY! The next section lays out a wonderful privacy section which the restroom section also threatens to undo. If all transgender students are FORCED to run across campus to the office/staff restroom every time they need to use the restroom (often times that is where the gender neutral or staff restrooms are located) you may as well put a sign on them saying TRANS* KIDS PLEASE USE THESE and wait for the bigoted bullies to sit and wait for their prey. I realize that the document clearly says that the schools won’t force the transgender students to use the unisex restrooms, but by eliminating usage of other restrooms without documentation of medical transition that’s exactly what you’re doing.
We offered them the following alternative language for this section, but they gave no comment about it:
“Restrooms, Locker Rooms, and Changing Facilities
All students are entitled to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities that are sanitary, safe, and adequate, so they can comfortably and fully engage in their school program and activities. In meeting with the transgender student (and if needed, supportive parent/guardian and/or guidance counselor) to discuss the issues set forth in this memorandum, it is essential that the principal and student address the student’s access to the restrooms, locker room and changing facility. Each situation needs to be reviewed and addressed based on the particular circumstances of the student and the school facilities. In all cases, the principal should be clear with the student (and if needed, supportive parent/guardian and/or guidance counselor) that the student may access the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that corresponds to the student’s gender identity. While some transgender students will want that arrangement, others will not be comfortable with it. Transgender students who are uncomfortable using a sex-segregated restroom should be provided with a safe and adequate alternative, such as a single “unisex” restroom or the nurse’s restroom. Similarly, some transgender students may not be comfortable undressing in the changing facilities that correspond to the student’s gender identity.
Some students may feel uncomfortable with a transgender student using the same sex-segregated restroom, locker room or changing facility. This discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student. School administrators and counseling staff should work with students to address the discomfort and to foster understanding of gender identity, to create a school culture that respects and values all students. The Department strongly recommends that districts include an appropriate number of gender-neutral restrooms commensurate with the size of the school, and at least one gender-neutral changing facility, into the design of new schools and school renovations.”
We also offered them a model document from Berkeley that accomplished the same thing that they’re trying to. They didn’t comment on that either.
Another community member spoke about how important it is to her that this Board keeps moving forward in love and acting in the best interest of all the students. She knows that her cisgender children are safe and cared for in our schools and she wants the same for LGBT students and she knows that for transgender students doing this document the right way is critical.
It seemed that the Board really wanted to push through this as quickly as possible. There was conversation that this document was merely to offer some basic guidelines to go along with the policy which they passed in August for school administrators to use – Then something happened that surprised me. One School Board Trustee, who I am pretty sure was not in favor of the ND Policy over the summer, spoke up for my arguments…
He hadn’t spoken all evening until apparently something clicked. (I’m not using quotations as I’m paraphrasing.) Isn’t it our job as the Board to put things like this in place and make sure that all of the schools are doing it the same?…Maybe, since we have questions, we should bring Paige, or someone with knowledge that we don’t have here and train us and the staff so that we understand this better… He went on for a few minutes more seeming to back what I had been attempting to get across…
A moment later they seemed to go back to their shuffling around, but for that moment I was happy. Someone understood our role. We are educators, helpers, community members, allies, partners…
I was once again pulled out of my happy, rainbow glow-haze when my arch nemesis on the Board, SD, (I won’t publish names, as much as I’d like to) looked me in the eye and said, “Paige, what will Pride do if we don’t do everything you’re asking?”… “What?” I looked around a little. “I don’t even know how to respond to that…We’ll keep coming when asked to offer guidance and support … when asked… which is why I’m here this evening…because a School Board member asked me to come.” It was a little weird. He kept staring me down for a few seconds. I feel like he was trying to intimidate me. My friend next to me said that I should’ve responded “I’ll glitter bomb you,” but I didn’t want to make threats, even funny ones when he’s clearly intimidated by us anyway.
In the end, the Superintendent was taking notes and will be making some edits, although I honestly think that the Board was much more concerned with typos than our suggestions. He will present the final draft at the next meeting in November. I plan on sending a few emails to the Board members who I feel are allies and may be inclined to speak up between now and the next meeting. Just to make sure that they understand what they’re imposing on these awesome, young people.
If you would like to see the full proposed document or if you have something helpful you can contribute feel free to reply to this and I will share it accordingly.
Paige Rappleye, LGBTQI Youth Advocate, Leadership Action Team – Pride Foundation