If you saw some of my retweets on Twitter a couple of days ago, you learned that there was a significant bill introduced in Wisconsin’s state legislature that, if it becomes law, would prohibit discrimination based on one’s gender identity or expression. I’m trying to formulate a post devoted solely to that piece of legislation (which you can learn about here). But in the meantime, I want to highlight a couple of interesting LGBT-related items.
The first was another piece of big Wisconsin news this week involving Ash Whitaker, a student at Kenosha’s Tremper High School who received disrespect from the administration of both the school and the school district just because he is transgender. Originally, Ash made news for wanting to run for prom king, but was rebuffed by Tremper High officials who dictated that he run for prom queen or be dropped from consideration for prom court altogether. The school relented, allowing anyone who qualified for prom court to run for prom king or prom queen, whichever one matched the gender they identified as.
But there was still the “bathroom issue,” that being Tremper High preventing Ash from using the boys’ washrooms and dictating him to use either the girls’ restrooms or a staff-only restroom (which was located in a very inconvenient place). Ash used the boys’ room anyway, until a teacher spotted him in there and reported the incident to school officials. It led to Ash and his mother filing suit against the Kenosha Unified School District last summer, alleging that KUSD was violating Title IX educational guidelines. KUSD countered that any harm to other boys in the boys’ room outweighed any harm Ash may encounter. (*insert eye roll here*) Last September, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing KUSD from barring Ash’s use of the boys’ room. And this week, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which covers Kenosha and eastern Wisconsin, affirmed that earlier ruling. In other words, Ash was free to use the boys’ washrooms at Tremper High.
This week’s ruling is indeed a great victory for trans kids such as Ash. Needless to say, KUSD’s leadership and their conservative lawyers are not happy, holding to the belief that Title IX does not afford trans kids protections of any sort and holding out for the possibility of appealing the ruling. But when you think of it, all KUSD is doing is using school district money to tilt at windmills that are proving no harm whatsoever. KUSD would be better to ensure that all students under their watch — whether they are born as male or female, identify as male or female, or do not conform to gender — gain the education, respect, and fair treatment they so richly deserve when they attend a public school.
As for Ash Whitaker, he is relieved that this fight is behind him. “It’s pretty liberating,” he admitted to NPR’s All Things Considered on Friday. He also told host Kelly McEvers (who identifies him with a more formal first name, Ashton) that he’s a rather forgiving person… well, forgiving at least to the school teacher who discovered him in the boys’ room seemingly so long ago (“he didn’t mean it to be malicious in any sort of sense”). Still, as tiring as all this legalese was, Ash doesn’t regret going through it or politely going public with it. It’s his belief that he is setting a guiding light for future generations of trans kids.
So, congratulations are in order for Ash Whitaker: He won his case in federal court. He is a shining trans figure that others can look up to. And, as of the day of this post, he is a high school graduate; he’ll receive his diploma from Tremper High and set forth on a college education. Congrats and good luck!
The other LGBT-related item I wanted to highlight is actually a couple of months old. Well, it was back at the end of March when BBC Radio aired an episode of its documentary series Seriously (“the home of quirky, curious, and seriously interesting documentaries”). The episode was titled “Rock Transition.” And, no, it’s not about rocks (how could you be do dense?). Rather, it’s about gender and sexual identity in the broad landscape of rock ‘n roll music.
One would think that the the inclusion of gender and sexual identity in rock music is a relatively more recent thing, i.e. the past couple of decades and especially more recently with the likes of Against Me and Tegan and Sara striking a chord (no pun intended) and making the issue a hot topic inside and outside the music world. Actually, as “Rock Transition” reveals, they are only part of the the latest generation to break those sexual and gender expression barriers. In fact, you should go way back to the 1920s and the rise of blues singer Ma Rainey. Little Richard would combine flamboyance and innuendo later, with the likes of Lou Reed, David Bowie, Prince, and Madonna pushing (and crossing) those boundaries further outward in subsequent decades.
But these days, however, that boundary crossing is much, much easier to notice. Part of it, “Rock Transition” suggests, has to do with the music business and the desire to counter against a rather myopic industry. It seems that a more independent corner of music (i.e. beyond the reach of corporate gatekeepers) combined with the freedom of expression that 21st century technology and social media has allowed these identity expressions — both sexual and, yes, gender — to flourish and gain accessibility. And, really, that’s a positive thing.
“Rock Transition” is a great listen for its analysis of music as a gender and sexual identity expression platform as well as thoughts on how the likes of Tegan and Sara and Against Me’s Laura Jane Grace (all three of them are among the artists and experts interviewed) enjoy their ability to express themselves and to avoid being taken advantage of by an industry always eager to tap into the next big thing for the sake of corporate gain. You can listen to or download this episode of Seriously through the BBC website here.