Just a real quick news item that came to my attention yesterday and should be brought to yours today. The first concerns someone here in Wisconsin — Kenosha, to be specific — that I talked about in this April post. Ash Whitaker wanted to run for prom king at her high school, Tremper High. School officials advised Ash that since she was born female, she should run for prom queen instead. But Ash held firm and publicly challenged the Tremper High officials’ decision, and an online petition was set up asking them to reverse course. It led to the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) to issue a statement that would allow Ash and others like him to be listed on the prom court ballot under the gender they identify — meaning Ash could run for prom king.
But there was — and still is — the respect issue. Ash’s mom is supportive of him. His classmates are supportive as well. But school officials do not seem to be entirely on board. Case in point: The dreaded “bathroom issue,” in which Ash was suddenly restricted from using the boys’ washroom and required to use either staff-only, single-occupancy restrooms, which are located in inconvenient spots at Tremper High.
But there has, reportedly, been more to that than issues of prom and restrooms: District officials continue to refer to Ash by his (female) birth name and feminine pronouns. They have required him to room with girls on any overnight school trips. And the district has devised a plan to tag Ash and other trans students with bright green wristbands, the better to monitor their bathroom use. (Can you say “Scarlet Letter“?) These are the claims that Ash and his mother have made in a complaint against KUSD in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee this week, alleging that KUSD is violating Title IX and his constitutional right to equal protection under the law. (Since Ash is a minor, he and his mother are listed by their initials on the complaint.)
As for KUSD, they are “reviewing the complaint” and are acting all confident that it will be resolved in the district’s favor. They must like litigation, as they were victorious in a May case involving a special education teacher’s complaints of the district’s failures to accommodate her disabilities. KUSD officials have said that their district-wide policy considering trans students — which is still in the process of being drawn up, according to this article — is meant to make “everyone” feel comfortable. (I wonder, though, if KUSD is dragging their feet because Wisconsin is one of several states challenging the federal government’s directive to allow trans students to use restrooms of the gender they identify with.)
But if KUSD wants to make “everyone” feel comfortable, they shouldn’t, in my opinion, neglect the needs and dignities of trans students such as Ash Whitaker. Ash has, and is, conducted himself admirably in all this, up to and including being Grand Marshal of last weekend’s LGBT pride festivities in Kenosha. Let’s hope all this is resolved in favor of Ash and other trans students, if not in courts of law but in the acceptance (finally!) by school districts and administrators such as Kenosha’s school district.
** 7/28/2016 UPDATE ** Ash and his mom were interviewed today by NPR’s All Things Considered to talk about their lawsuit against KUSD and the discomfort both have felt from school officials (they feel as if they’re being singled out and pressured by the school). You can hear their conversation at this link.