About 25 protesters braved a brisk wind and fumes from cars zipping past Friday afternoon to show their support for Blake Williams, a transgender teen who says he dropped out of Aspen Valley High School because he didn’t feel safe. (Colorado Springs Gazette)
Williams, 18, said he’s endured bullying and verbal abuse at three schools – two in Academy School District 20 and one charter school – in the two years since he began transitioning from female to male. He called on District 20 and other district administrations to begin training staff on the issues facing Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.
“We need to be protected from the hate, the bullying,” he said. “We want to be treated as human beings.”
Others at the rally across from Aspen Valley, an alternative school in D-20, said the education community, including colleges, must work harder to address issues that face LGBT students.
“This doesn’t stop at high schools,” Ayden Merino, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs freshman said of discriminatory practices. “It goes on in colleges. They can’t even figure out what kind of dorm room to put us in.”
Williams said has been living and presenting himself as a male for about a year, but has not begun hormone treatment or had gender reassignment surgeries. He asked to be called Blake and to be able to use the boy’s bathroom at the school.
Principal George Stone said when Williams started at the school in August, he asked to be called Blake although he enrolled with his legal name, Emily.
“I feel like Aspen Valley embraced Blake as “Blake,” Stone said. But he did not allow Blake to use the boy’s bathroom because there is only one and he was concerned about the reaction of other students.
Blake continued to use the girl’s bathroom and the subject didn’t come up again until recently, when Williams also asked Stone to direct the staff to refer to him with male pronouns. Stone said he would ask the staff to do so, but would not issue a mandate.
Stone said he wasn’t sure he could order people to use male pronouns with a person they knew to be a female. It takes time to changes people’s attitudes and behavior and that he doesn’t believe the best way to do this is with mandates.
“Societies change over time,” he said.
Those at the rally, though, believe that it’s taken too long for educational institutions to recognize the issues facing LGBT students, and several organizations represented at the protest are calling for action.
When students apply to live in college dormitories, for example, there usually are no questions about sexual orientation or identity, said Merino, who is gay. One of his friends was assigned to a dorm room with someone who disdained gays so he never stayed in the room and was too afraid of retribution to report it.
“And administrators are totally clueless about transgender issues,” he said.
As the transgender community has become more outspoken and visible, the scientific community, too has delved into the issue of gender identity.
A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine said “diagnoses of gender-identity disorder among adults have tripled in Western countries since the 1960s” and there has been an explosion in clinics that diagnose gender-identity disorder in children. There is considerable debate about the use of the term “disorder.”
“In 2012, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the bible for psychiatric professionals – will be updated. Many in the transgender community see this as their opportunity to remove gender-identity disorder from the book, much the same way homosexuality was delisted in 1973,” Atlantic Monthly reported.
As the psychologists, sociologists and others debate gender identity and sexual orientation issues, those in the LGBT community say they struggle to simply be treated as normal citizens.
“Those of you who are not transgender may not understand us,” said Nancy-Jo Morris, who leads the support group Peak Area Gender Expressions. “But you know when people are being mistreated.”