By Parker Marie Molloy
Originally published on Advocate.com August 18 2014 4:11 PM ET
Administrators at Middletown, N.J.'s Thorne Middle School informed the mother of a 13-year-old transgender girl that her daughter would not be allowed to attend school this fall unless she presented herself "as a boy."
According to the teen's mother, Angela Peters, an administrator contacted her after learning that her daughter, Rachel, planned to attend classes this fall. Prior to this year, Peters says that her daughter attended school under the name "Brian," and was known by classmates and teachers as a boy. Peters told the Asbury Park Press that the school official informed her that faculty and staff expected Rachel to return to school that fall as Brian, for her to "act like Brian," and to attend school "dressed as Brian."
Last year, Rachel suffered panic attacks, depression, and stress-induced seizures as a result of trying to suppress her gender dysphoria, the clinical diagnosis used to describe a disconnect between one's gender identity and the gender they were assigned at birth.
"She would get off the bus and just cry," Peters told the Asbury Park Press. "Then she would go to sleep for 17 or 20 hours and refuse to go back there."
Peters says that the school claimed it was unable to adequately care for her daughter. She says she tried to find compromises on some of the more contentious issues, like bathroom usage, but the school insisted that her daughter would be required to use the boys' facilities. Peters said he school pointed to Rachel's birth certificate as the reason staff would be unable to refer to her as anything other than "Brian."
The legality of the school's stance is questionable. Title IX of the Civil Rights Act protects transgender students from being discriminated against on account of their gender identity, and the state's own civil rights law bars discrimination on the basis of one's gender identity or expression in employment, housing, credit and contracting, and public accommodations.
"The family would have a strong case against discrimination," Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, told the Ashbury Park Press.
As public pressure increases, school officials are now saying they are willing to meet with the family in an effort to resolve the controversy, though Peters has also expressed hope that her daughter might be able to attend school outside the district in hopes of a fresh start.