Trans Teen Shares Heartbreaking Reason She Wasn't Allowed To Walk At Her Graduation

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Jennea Purcell, an 18-year-old trans girl from Honolulu, HI, says that she didn’t get to walk with her graduating class because of gender-specific rules about graduation gowns.

Purcell, who began transitioning in high school, told ABC News that she had never had a problem with her expression of gender identity in school — until it came time for her 2015 graduation.

“I dressed like a female, I played the role as a female as far as the bathroom goes, yes, anything the females did, I was doing,” she said. But when graduation rolled around, she says she hit a stumbling block. At Kahuku High & Intermediate School in Honolulu, girls wear white graduation gowns and boys wear red. Purcell says that when she spoke to her principal, she was told that her only option was to wear a red gown. Instead of wearing the boy's gown, she chose to sit out the ceremony.

Both Kahuku Principal Pauline Masaniai and Department of Education representative Donalyn Dela Cruz disagree with Purcell’s account, with Masaniai telling ABC that the white graduation gown had been approved. Dela Cruz also said that the DOE had investigated Purcell’s allegations and that she had been barred from walking with her class for other non-disclosable reasons.

Purcell admits that she struggled with academics her senior year. Though she graduated on time, “the credits weren’t there.” She says that she believed she had been on track to graduate normally until her conversation with Principal Masaniai.

Hawaii’s Board of Education requires that students have met minimum course and credit requirements, in addition to financial obligations and “other conditions” left unspecified, in order to participate in commencement.

A year after the fact, Purcell is working to make sure that no other student has to miss out on his or her graduation because of unclear rules. She plans to tell her story in a film produced in partnership with the filmmakers of the Kumu Hina project. She’s also started a petition to challenge the Hawaii DOE to create and implement a consistent policy in regards to transgender students and to provide professional training to help teachers and administrators respond to the needs of transgender students.

"My intention in making this film and having the petition is just to make sure that no other child, even if they're not transgender or part of the LGBT community, doesn't have to go through something like this,” Purcell told KITV. “It's not okay."

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