This Teen Shows That The Fight For LGBTQ Equality Isn't Over

Photo: Courtesy of the NYCLU
Last week was a good week for LGBTQ couples who want to get married, but as many people have pointed out, marriage equality is only one of many rights the LGBTQ community has been fighting for. Trans and genderqueer people still face widespread legal discrimination, and even in institutions that are supposed to act fairly, it doesn't always happen that way. From bullying to being forced to use the wrong bathroom, incidents of harassment and violence contribute to the sky-high rates of suicide attempts among trans people — 41% report attempting to take their own lives at least once.

On June 24, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report that documented rampant harassment of trans and gender-nonconforming students in the state's public schools. Locke, an 18-year-old student from Upstate New York, worked with the NYCLU to force his school to accommodate him when he transitioned, and he talked with us about his experience.

What's your experience in high school been like?
"When I started high school, I went into the principal, and I asked him to help me with socially transitioning. I asked him to ask the teachers to call me "he" and "him" and "his," and to call me Locke, and if I could use the boys' bathroom and the boys' locker room and stuff like that. Those requests were not honored for several months until I called the ACLU.

"Sometimes teachers are uncomfortable with me being trans. One teacher called me 'she' and referred to me with a group of girls as 'you ladies,' and she even used my birth name in front of the class.

"Most of the time, I’m not bullied directly, but I hear from my friends that people will come up to them — people they don’t know — will come up to them and ask them inappropriate questions about me, like what genitals I have, how I have sex, stuff like that. It’s just really inappropriate."

So early on, you contacted the ACLU. How'd that change things?
"When I first started going to my school, [the administration] contacted the school’s attorney to ask about all my requests. The attorney said, 'No, we can’t put your name on your school transcripts without your parents’ support unless you're 18, no, we can’t call you he/him/his, no, we can’t let you go to the boys’ bathroom, and no, we can’t let you be on the boys’ swim team.'

"But after I called the ACLU, the school decided they were able to honor some of my requests. They made it policy that teachers must call transgender students by their preferred pronouns, with or without their parents’ support, and by their preferred name, with or without their parents’ support. I feel like I made it a little bit better, but I wish that I could have made more changes happen."

But they didn't accommodate all your requests.
"No, the school didn't do anything, really, that the ACLU didn't ask them to do, and they didn't even do everything that the ACLU did ask them to do, such as letting me be on the boys' swimming team, letting me use the bathrooms that correspond with my gender identity, things like that."

What bathroom do you use at school?
"The school decided I would have to use gender-neutral bathrooms, unless there were no gender-neutral bathrooms available, and then I would be allowed to use the men's bathroom."

How have your friends been?
"All my friends have been supportive of me — they're who I leaned on since I didn’t have my family or my school really backing me. I did have some individuals at my school, like the vice principal and my guidance counselor, but my friends were there most of all to give me support in times that I needed it."

What do you think people don’t really understand about trans kids?
"Whenever [someone] young — especially younger than 18 — comes out as transgender, people immediately say, 'Oh, it’s just a phase,' or 'They’re a virgin, so they don’t really know how they feel,' or even 'They’re just going through something hard, like depression, and they’re using this as a way of dealing with it.'

"I think that is a really bad stigma to have about trans people. If it's a phase, it’s going to last a week or two — whereas even when I’d been out for a year or two, people still said that to me."
What advice do you have for other young people who find themselves struggling with questions of gender identity and acceptance?
"Realizing you may be transgender can be really confusing for kids. I think it’s okay to give yourself time to figure out what your identity is before you apply a strict label. It’s okay to identify as something more general, like genderqueer, without being specific, and it’s important that people respect you while you take time to figure out your own identity.

"If they’re not respectful of you, you should stand up for yourself and not be afraid to do that. It is definitely your right and responsibility to do that for yourself. Because if you don’t, there might not be someone else who does. And if there is someone else who does, be really glad to have them as a friend."

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