An assistant principal at a West Virginia high school allegedly harassed a 15-year-old transgender student over his bathroom use, taunting him to "come out here and use the urinal" in order to prove whether he was really a boy.
According to a letter by the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, Liberty High School sophomore Michael Critchfield says the official misgendered him throughout the humiliating exchange before concluding: "I’m not going to lie. You freak me out."
The civil rights organization outlined the incident, which allegedly took place in late November, in the letter sent Monday to Dr. Mark A. Manchin, superintendent of Harrison County Schools. On Tuesday, Manchin announced that assistant principal Lee Livengood would be suspended with pay through Friday, when the holiday break begins.
"While we are heartened to hear the administration admit to wrongdoing, a four day paid suspension of an employee is not sufficient," ACLU-WV said in a statement. "The Harrison County School District needs to make significant changes to its culture."
A 2017 study found that West Virginia is the state with highest percentage of teenagers who identify as transgender.
The alleged incident took place on Friday, November 27. Michael was part of an after-school marching band trip and decided to go to the restroom before departing. According to ACLU-WV, Michael always checks whether there's anyone in the boys' restroom before using it as a preventive measure. In this afternoon, the bathroom was empty so Michael went to use a stall. That's when Livengood allegedly came crashing in. He questioned why Michael was in this restroom and challenged him to use the urinal to prove he was a boy. The teenager explained that while he was assigned female at birth, he identified as male.
That led to Livengood allegedly shouting: "If you can’t use this urinal, then you shouldn’t be in here. What if a student said you were checking them out in here?" The confrontation lasted a few minutes and the assistant principal was loud enough for Michael's classmates to hear him down the hall. A chaperone was alerted and witnessed the teen drummer emerge from the bathroom in tears. Even after being confronted by the chaperone, Livengood continued to misgender Michael and that's when he said the sophomore "freaked [him] out." The student says the incident was traumatizing.
According to the ACLU-WV, this is not the first incident in the school. Even though Michael's family told school administrators his affirmed gender is male when he started as a freshman, he continues to be deadnamed on occasion.
The difficulties transgender students face, especially when it comes to something as simple as using the bathroom, is not new. In early 2017, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era directive that allowed students to use the restrooms corresponding with their gender identity. And according to a 2016 study, nearly 60% of transgender people avoid using public restrooms out of fear of being harassed. Research has also found that 70% of trans students avoid using their school’s bathrooms out of fear, too.
"At the end of the day, all I want is to feel welcome and safe in my school," Michael said in a statement released by ACLU-WV. "Mr. Livengood’s behaviour in the bathroom that day was terrifying and no student deserves that kind of treatment. I’m telling my story so that high school doesn’t have to be a scary place for kids like me."