Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
When I started high school, all I wanted was to be myself. I had recently come out as female-to-male transgender and was eager to live my life as my true self. Everything was going great; people used my pronouns - he and him, and I was using the men’s bathroom at school without issue.
But one day, I was called into the guidance office, where I was told that someone had “anonymously complained” about me using the men’s bathroom, and that I wasn’t allowed to use it anymore. Instead, I could use the school’s gender-neutral bathrooms, either the one in the nurse’s office or the other inside a classroom.
Forcing me to use a gender-neutral bathroom was an insult to my identity. It was absolutely humiliating to walk halfway across the school, passing several men’s rooms, to find one of the gender-neutral bathrooms to use. I practically hid from administrators who would have thought I was skipping class if I had said I was going to the bathroom while walking past one. My school had decided to alienate me, along with every other transgender student at my school.
My mom and I decided to try to reason with the school. We met with social workers, the principal, administrators and even the assistant superintendent of my school district. No one would change the anti-LGBTQ policy. No one would help me.
My school administrators almost flat-out told me that they were more afraid of a lawsuit from a parent worried about their child using the bathroom with a transgender student than they were of a lawsuit from me.
I decided that I needed to do something more, so I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). (If you’re experiencing discrimination at school, you can learn how to file a complaint with OCR here). Soon after, an investigation was opened. We offered the school district peaceful mediation, but to not avail. Then, the OCR launched a full investigation and interviewed all the people involved.
The OCR determined that my school district was in violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have interpreted Title IX, which bans discrimination in education on the basis of sex, as protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students; however, my rights are currently in limbo, as the courts consider cases challenging the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice’s interpretation of Title IX.
Meanwhile, I’m hopeful that my school district will soon implement an LGBTQ-inclusive bathroom policy, but for now, I go through every day, like so many other transgender students, just hoping to use the bathroom that aligns with my gender identity and to be treated with respect.
As we head into the election season, it’s critical that we elect leaders who will fight for LGBTQ-inclusive policies in every school, including at the national level in the Oval Office. That’s why I just signed GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President, which demands that every candidate for President support LGBTQ-inclusive school policies.
When my school failed to protect me, I did something about it and took a step toward creating positive change in my school. Will you do something to help all transgender students and add your name to GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President? Click here to sign.
Drew Adams is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.