Most of us know what LGBT means. But what are the extra letters at the end of the acronym?
Students, parents and alumni of Great Hearts Academies stood outside a fundraiser gala Saturday night to protest a policy they say discriminates against transgender students.
About two dozen people lined the street holding signs that read, “Teachers 4 Transgender Rights” and “Publicly funded Schools should not discriminate. Period.”
The Great Hearts executive board enacted a policy last school year that, among other things, requires students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificate.
According to estimates, about 0.62 percent of Arizona’s population may identify as transgender. Based on that, advocates estimated there could be as many as 50 Great Hearts students negatively impacted by the policy.
“We are getting a lot of calls from parents and students who are afraid to come out because they fear retaliation but who are becoming less scared as they see visible proof that their side is justified,” said Hannah Duncan, a 2011 alumnus who is leading the push to change the policy. “Only a couple of stories have come out about Great Heart students who are openly transgender, but we assume (there are) many more based on the data.”
The Great Hearts executive board enacted a policy at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year that laid out certain restrictions for transgender students at the organization’s 28 schools in Arizona and Texas.
Among the rules are:
- Students must either use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate, or a single-unit, gender-neutral bathroom.
- Students must follow the “uniform code and grooming standards of their sex” as listed on their birth certificate.
- Students can participate in the single-sex athletic activities that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates.
- Staff must refer to a student by the name listed in school records, which is based on birth certificates, or by a nickname agreed upon by the student and his or her family.
- Staff may use personal pronouns consistent with the student’s sex as listed on their birth certificate.
Protesters, including one teacher, said the policy restricts teachers and may create an atmosphere that permits discrimination.
“The school’s policy, which prevents teachers from calling them by the pronouns they prefer and allowing them to be who they are, reinforces what is already an existing culture of discrimination at Great Heart academies,” Duncan said.
Several alumni who went on to practice medicine, as well as a group of Phoenix-based doctors, penned a letter to the executive board that explained the negative impact the policy would have on transgender students.
As donors arrived at the gala, that letter was given to executive board member Erik Twist, Great Hearts’ chief innovation officer and senior vice president of advocacy.
Twist stepped outside to meet with protesters and listen to their concerns.
“We’re taking everything to our team, to board members,” he told them. “We continue to do that.”
Twist has said the policy “balances the needs of all of our students, parents and staff, as well as conforms to current federal and state laws.”
Saturday, he said the transgender policy issue was complicated and did not have a definitive solution to the concerns.
“There are good people on both sides of this issue,” he said.
The activists compared this statement with one President Donald Trump made about white supremacists during a rally in Charlottesville, Virg. earlier this year.
“I cant believe he said there were good people on both sides,” said Sonja Stone, the mother of a transgender student who graduated last spring. “That’s literally what Trump said about Charlottesville.”
Stone’s son, Jude Stone, came out as transgender about a month before the new policy was enacted, she said. For his senior year of high school, school policy meant he had to use the only gender-neutral bathroom on campus, which was located at the back of the school.
“How can you be impacted by Jude’s story and do nothing to protect students,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Stone said meeting with Twist did not inspire confidence that change would come.
“I appreciate that he took the time to come over to us and to say that I have a great kid, but that’s not really helpful,” she said. “What are you going to do for the next kid so they don’t feel discriminated against?”
She said she fears the policy is teaching students that “it’s okay to treat this person differently. It’s okay to put this person aside.”
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