First off, I must credit one of my WordPress peeps, The Finicky Cynic, for sharing this story. F.C. commented on my previous post about those legal “roadblocks” the trans community still faces. I agree with her lament that discussions about trans issues are still not prominent, even within the LGBT community — and despite all the gains we’ve made together. She agrees in her comment with the second aspect of my post: Initiating discussions on trans issues (not just hoping for them to happen) will be so beneficial in the future.
In her comment, F.C. shared an article (and thanks for doing so, by the way) from right here in Wisconsin that I am embarrassed to admit I was not privy to until she shared it. The article concerns who can run for prom king and queen at high school. Now, I’ve shared before (here and here, actually) stories about other institutions of learning in Wisconsin that have established gender-neutral homecoming courts. This new story comes from Kenosha, which for the uninitiated is in the southeastern corner of Wisconsin (a stone’s throw from the Illinois border).
The young person pictured above is Ash Whitaker, a 16-year-old student at Tremper High School in Kenosha. Ash is a trans person, born female but identifying as male (he came out to family, friends, and school officials last school year). It’s that gender identity issue that led Tremper High administrators to recently give Ash this rather rash ultimatum: Run as prom queen instead of prom king (since Ash is still legally and biologically female), or drop out altogether from the prom court he had already been nominated for.
Needless to say, this ultimatum did not sit well with Ash,who put in a requisite amount of volunteer hours needed to qualify for prom court (this article indicates that students are required to put in volunteer hours before they can be nominated). So, Ash took action, starting up a MoveOn.org petition that garnered 7,382 signatures as of this writing. Ash has the backing of his mother (a teacher at Tremper High) and fellow students, who held a protest on school grounds last Tuesday supporting Ash and asking school administrators to reverse their decision.
The action of Ash and his fellow students led to good results (sort of): The issue went from the Tremper High level to the school district level, where at the end of last week, a Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) spokesperson made this statement (quoted below and found here):
“In order to meet the needs of all students while maintaining what has historically been done, any student who qualifies for Tremper High School prom court will be listed on the ballot under the gender for which they identify.”
It’s great news for any trans student in the district, and specifically for Ash, who can now formally accept the prom king nomination as he has wanted. But there’s still another issue, however — the dreaded “bathroom issue.” Until recently, Ash had been allowed to use the boys’ restroom. Suddenly, however, Tremper High officials restricted him to using either single-stalled restrooms, found at the far ends of the school, or a staff-only restroom (and none of the boys’ restrooms).
The whole issue has laid bare the the fact that KUSD currently lacks a district-wide policy concerning the inclusion of trans students in matters such as homecoming, prom, and restrooms. At least the KUSD states they are looking into the matter and are in the process of formulating a district-wide trans policy.
So, while just half of Ash Whitaker’s battle has been won, it is indeed a start. And it has indeed started a conversation (there’s that word again) in Kenosha regarding the treatment of transgender students in the school district. Let’s not forget about Ash himself: He has conducted himself with dignity and honesty through the matter, stating his actions are not just for himself but for other students like him who are still in the closet. Good luck to you, Ash, on your prom king campaign. More important than prom, however, thank you for setting a good example and putting an important topic to the forefront.