By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com September 10 2013 2:11 PM ET
A driver's license doesn't count as legal proof of gender in Johnstown, Pa., according to a school board in the community about 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.
That's essentially what Richland School District board members told Kasey Caron at a meeting last night, where the transgender senior at Richland High School fought to appeal the school's decision to list him on the female ballot rather than with fellow male classmates in the running for Richland's homecoming court.
Flanked by more than 100 supporters wearing blue to demonstrate their solidarity, Caron laid out his case before the school board on Monday night. Caron cited Pennsylvania's Fair Opportunities Education Act in his defense, which prohibits stereotyping based upon gender in public institutions.
Caron, who was assigned female at birth but identifies, presents, and is recognized by his family, classmates, and teachers as male, decided to enter the running for homecoming court after a guidance counselor encouraged him to put his name in for homecoming king at the beginning of the school year. Although Caron was originally listed on the male side of the ballot, administrators switched him to the female side of the ticket the day the student body was set to vote on homecoming court. Despite widespread student support for Caron to appear with other male students on the homecoming court, he says school officials told him because he is legally female, he must run for homecoming queen.
"I was in shock, enraged, and disappointed," Caron said of the day administrators forced him onto the female ballot without consulting him, in his prepared statement issued at last night's meeting. "It felt like everything I had worked for had been destroyed. A new and important door had been opened for me and then slammed right in my face. I was heartbroken and on the verge of tears as I stormed out of their office and directly into the guidance counselor’s office across the hall. It hit me. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I was crying so hard I almost couldn’t explain to [the guidance counselor] what had happened. I could barely breathe." Read Caron's full remarks as prepared here.
Nevertheless, Caron was elected to the homecoming court. But recognizing Caron's "unique situation," the school informed the 17-year-old that he would be allowed to bring an escort of his choosing — presumably female-identified — from outside the homecoming court, rather than pairing the masculine-presenting teenager with another male student.
Caron says school officials cited his driver's license when denying him a place on the male roster. At last night's meeting, Caron presented the school board with a copy of his driver's license, which lists his gender as male.
"The law defines whether a person is male or female unto Pennsylvania," claimed school board solicitor Tim Leventry. "It says that if you have male or female, you know, genitalia, things of this nature, you're one or the other. If you want to be changed to be a male legally in Pennsylvania, you have to be certified by a physician that does this work, and have your birth certificate changed. That's the law."
Leventry went on to claim that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's requirements for gender change were less strict than state law, which he said requires the costly and time-consuming process of filing an amended birth certificate to be legally recognized as male. When Caron and supporters asked for the specific clause in state law mandating an amended birth certificate, the solicitor was reportedly exasperated.
"We're not writing a legal brief here," said Leventry. "No, I don't have those in front of me to cite to you." Leventry then declined to disclose the name of the board's legal counsel.
Throughout the meeting, Leventry and other school board officials repeatedly misgendered Caron, referring to him as "she" and at one point asking his mother, who happens to be a lesbian, "Who are you? Is Kasey your daughter?" An Associated Press story also ignored the AP's own guidelines for reporting on transgender people by referring to Caron as a "biologically female student" and going out of its way to avoid using any personal pronouns to discuss the honor student and drum major.
In addition to roughly 100 community supporters, Caron was backed by the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
Calling the issue "a very sensitive, complex matter," Leventry reaffirmed that regardless of how Caron, his peers, and his elders identify him, the school board considers Caron to be female. But, Leventry said, the school board can override this legal perspective on a case-by-case basis, which it could do in Caron's situation.
"Legally, we concur with that opinion" [that Caron belongs on the female ballot,] said Leventry in closing. "If the school board, with based on hearing you personally as well as from the audience, wishes to change that, they have the right to do that. Legally, they do not have to do that, OK?"
Watch the highlights from last night's school board meeting, as edited by the Johnstown, Pa., Tribune-Democrat.