The new federal transgender bathroom/locker room policy sparked emotional debate Monday when the Amherst board of education met.
Board president Rex Engle told about 100 people gathered at Amherst Junior High School that after consulting with lawyers, it is in the district’s “best interest” to comply with a May 13 directive from the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice.
It requires public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the gender they identify with. “A school may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy.”
Rather than adopt a blanket policy, Engle said the district will handle student needs individually. “We have and we will continue to work with our students discreetly and respectfully like we always have,” Engle said.
Compliance was criticized by many of the 25 people who spoke at the meeting.
A report by Media Matters America, a media watchdog, said 23 school districts and four universities with rules allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice reported no abuses. Nonetheless, some speakers said child molesters posing as transgender people might take advantage of the policy.
Parent Markus Athineos called the policy “reckless,” “dangerous,” and “negligent.” He said opponents would not stand still, “while the hearts, minds, and bodies of our children are prostituted at the altar of political correctness, extremism, and negligence.”
Athineos, who previously suggested the district have “gender neutral” bathrooms, asked board members to form a committee to enact a formal policy. “Until a clear, written policy is implemented, our children are at risk of being violated and our schools are at risk of litigation,” he said.
Speaker Vicki Brusky asked the board to fight the policy. At least 11 states have sued the Obama administration over the directive and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine hinted at a lawsuit in a May 27 letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. DeWine called the directive”heavy-handed federal bureaucratic action guaranteeing prolonged controversy and litigation.”
Brusky said the policy will allow male coaches to enter girls locker rooms and female coaches to enter boys locker rooms. She said transgender and gay people seeking to use the bathroom of the sex they identify with weren’t seeking equality.
“What they are asking for is special rights that violate the dignity and the privacy of women and girls and simple common sense,” Brusky said.
While some parents said they were blindsided by the administration and board, parent Gina Ficociello expressed support. “The schools here have been incredibly compassionate,” said Ficociello, whose 15-year-old child was born female but identifies as a boy.
Parent Kathy Gillman recalled being afraid of sending her elementary school daughter to school after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which 20 school children and six adults were killed by a gunman who entered the school. Gillman said she trusted school staff then and continues to. Transgender people comprise about 0.3 percent of Americans and Gillman said the policy protects minorities.
“It’s only fair and it’s only right,” she said. “Majorities, we’ll take care ourselves. We always do.”
Harmony Moon, a 2009 Steele High graduate, was born male but dresses and identifies as a woman. She said she has been using female bathrooms for about seven years without problems.
Moon compared forcing transgender students to use individual bathrooms to the “separate but equal” segregation struck down by the Supreme Court in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case. Moon also said it was demeaning that some speakers referred to transgender people as “transgenders” comparing it to calling black people “the blacks” or gay people “the gays.” She said transgender people are not a threat.
“There’s a lot of fear-mongering that I think is very, very misplaced,” Moon said. “People are speaking on a subject that they do not have the authority to speak on entirely.”
Engle said board members would consider speakers remarks in implementing policy.
However, he said the board has only been able to find one school district in Cuyahoga or Lorain counties that has a bathroom/locker room policy and it treats students’ needs individually like Amherst.
“As of tonight, the policy that has been in place, in which there is no bathroom or locker room policy, will be what remains in effect going forward,” Engle said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Photos by Evan Goodenow | Amherst News-Times Markos Athineos asks Amherst school board members to form a committee to enact a formal bathroom and locker room policy. “Until a clear, written policy is implemented, our children are at risk of being violated and our schools are at risk of litigation,” he said.