Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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A Thank-You Note to a Revolutionary Student

Asaf Orr

Dear Student,
 
This month was epic! I bet you never would have imagined when we filed your transgender discrimination case against Arcadia schools nearly five years ago that we would be here today. First, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the federal government was suing the governor of North Carolina for discriminating against transgender people. Her remarks were rousing and heartfelt, noting that this “action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them — indeed, to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country — haltingly but inexorably — in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.” If that wasn’t enough, this end of that week came with a one-two punch — the federal government made clear that schools cannot discriminate against transgender people and neither can health care providers or insurance companies.
 
I hope that those advances towards equality for transgender people fill you with pride. Not just because the federal government is standing up for the humanity and dignity of transgender people, but also because you helped make this day happen. Although it has been nearly five years since you fought back against the discrimination you were experiencing in school, the resolution of that complaint marked the beginning of an unstoppable march toward justice. Over the years, your story has been told and retold countless times, each time helping to change the hearts and minds of government officials, including some of the most powerful ones. That story, along with those of other brave transgender students who turned to the federal government for assistance, became the driving force behind the “Dear Colleague” letter and guidelines released this month.
 
By being unapologetic for who you are, you were able to accomplish as a teenager what many aspire to accomplish in a lifetime. Despite the pain it caused, you did not let discrimination hold you back. You persevered and made sure that your school district would not continue to treat you as a pariah. You did all that with an unrivaled confidence that your vision of justice is the one that should guide us all. In fact, when the case was wrapping up you wanted to meet with the superintendent to tell him, “I told you so.” You did not see that meeting as an opportunity to gloat, but you wanted the superintendent to reflect upon the concerns that he once believed justified discriminating against you and realize how misguided they were.
 
You stood up not only for yourself but also for transgender students across the country who could not risk challenging their school districts, and for that you deserve our sincerest thanks and praise. Your selflessness helped push the federal government to adopt guidelines that will ensure all students can attend schools in a safe and affirming environment. Those guidelines will not only further the mission of our nation’s schools but will also save lives as schools become a place where transgender students are respected for who they are.
 
This is a giant leap that should be celebrated. Yet there is much more work ahead to ensure that all transgender people across the country can live their lives with dignity and respect. Rest assured that the National Center for Lesbian Rights will be there every step of the way, working with the transgender community and their families, until we reach that day.
 
It was a pleasure and honor to have represented you. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
 
Very Truly Yours,
 
Asaf Orr, Esq.
 
ASAF ORR is the Transgender Youth Project staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. He was the lead attorney in Student v. Arcadia Unified School, which was the first case filed by a transgender student alleging that the school’s decision to deny him the use of the boys’ facilities was discrimination under Title IX. Photo by Trish Tunney Photography.

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