Trans rights are human rights: A rally at the BOE for trans protection in schools
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On March 8th, hundreds of students, teachers, and parents gathered outside the Board of Education for the first Frederick Transgender rights rally. Organized by James Vankuilenburg, transgender male and student president of Governor Thomas Johnson High School’s Gay Straight Alliance, the group addressed the BOE during their monthly meeting.
The crowd buzzed with electricity as friends moved through the crowd to find each other, and strangers held hands, finding an ally in their shared struggle. I stood in the midst of the mob, sign in one hand, camera clicking furiously in the other. Fellow advocates approached me, cis and transgenders offered their support and expressed their excitement to meet an ally in the struggle for trans equality.
On February 27th, the BOE made a statement declaring that they would create policy regarding trans bathroom and dressing room rights in the school system. The statement said, “To every one of our students, families, teachers, staff, and administrators, we welcome you. We are so glad to have you in the Frederick County Public School (FCPS) community. We value and appreciate your unique interests and talents, your experiences, your religion or creed, your national origin or ancestry, your race, your gender, your gender identity or gender expression; your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, the color of your skin, your political affiliation, the languages you speak, your military service, and your varied abilities, challenges and physical or emotional disabilities. Indeed, all that is unique about you creates tremendous diversity and value for our school community.”
The ralliers hoped to convince the BOE to make regulations allowing students to use the bathroom of their preferred gender.
“It’s very important to us as trans students,” said Vankuilenburg, “that we are part of the process of creating a policy that will protect us. After all, we are the ones with the stories and experiences that are vital in creating effective regulations and practices.”
During the rally, several trans advocates spoke to the ralliers. Karen Holmes, a trans woman from Rockville, Maryland, repeated the story of her service in the military. Director Chris Stair of the Frederick Center, a group which offers services and support for local LGBTQA youth, Pastor Miller Hoffman of the Open Door Metropolitan Community Church in Boyds, Maryland, and Nicola Vankuilenburg, mother of a trans student and activist, also gave speeches.
Hoffman said in his speech, “People who want to keep us out of the bathrooms act like we are pretending. But they are the ones who are pretending. They’re pretending to be reasonable people. They’re pretending that they don’t have anything against [the trans community.] They’re pretending that their only concerns are for privacy and safety. However this assumes that before trans people got involved, no student ever felt surveilled, or exposed, or under threat in the locker room.”
The crowd raised signs declaring “Trans is beautiful” “Protect Trans Students,” and “Equality.” I myself carried a poster with “Trans rights are human rights” scrawled in black, pink, and blue Sharpie. Trans and gay pride flags were waved; fists were raised; and the group cheered as their struggle was finally recognized.
The ralliers moved into the BOE meeting to speak during public comment. The room was flooded with a sea of Pride buttons and posters. Up to 40 ralliers had to stand in the back, as all the seats had been filled by buzzing individuals in pink, blue, and white. I sat beside an older woman with a high collared sweater. I worried that she had arrived with the anti-trans group.
“We are not a single narrative. We are made up of students of every grade, race, and financial background. I implore you to listen to our stories, and consider them when drafting this policy,” said Vankuilenburg in a comment to the BOE.
The speakers for trans inclusion included James Vankuilenburg, Andrew Rudeveer, Jamie Damm, Ian Burrows, Max Frasier, Alan Frasier, Wendy Frasier, Nissa Quill, Laurie Egbert, Lisa Vaus, Ashley Wilcom, Mary Katherine Meyers, LHS nurse Jessica Early, Sophia Vaus, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Director of Personnel Amilynne Adams, Kate McShane, Sharon Zeirbosnoggle, Safe Haven Frederick organizer Ian Chad, Jamie Trumbauer, and President Missy Dirks of the FCPS teachers association.
Two speakers also spoke against trans bathroom rights. The ralliers stood in a moment of silent solidarity, posters and flags held above their heads and fists raised to the sky. It was a powerful moment: a silent crowd protested the opposing viewpoints delivered from the podium.
It was hard, listening to the reasons why I, and the rest of the trans community, should not be allowed to use the bathrooms and dressing rooms of our gender identity. As I sat tensely, the older woman beside me nudged my side. We exchanged a glance, and she rolled her eyes and whispered, “Don’t worry about it, hon. You’re better than them.”
The negative words will inevitably fade from memory. The feeling of being surrounded by allies and fellow trans students is something I’ll never forget.
The desire for change, the support, and the overwhelming feeling of love from my fellow ralliers is ingrained into my mind. It’s something I’ve never felt before.
Vice Principal Andrew McWilliams said, “As with all new policy, the Board will discuss, deliberate and ensure ample opportunity for public comment, but new policy will align with the civil rights guarantees set forth in Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 as well as the Maryland State Department of Education’s Providing Safe Spaces for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth: Guidelines for Gender Identity Non-Discrimination, as well as our own policies and regulations.”
“At the end of the day, I just want to be recognized as a person,” said Rudeveer. “Is that too much to ask?”