My trans hero of the day: high school senior Kasey Caron, who wants to start a gay-straight alliance at his school and now has a perfect example of why his school needs a policy of inclusion. He's become the unwitting center of a controversy because he wanted to run for a place on the men's homecoming court and the school told him he'd have to be listed on the female ballot because of the gender designation on his driver's license.
Caron has eased into transition over time and the bulk of the student body and his teachers interact with him as a boy, although conditions at Richland force him to use the women's restroom. He also needs to wait until he's 18 to start medical transition, which has become a key bone of contention in his battle with the school. When his guidance counselor asked him if he was running for the homecoming court, he took a leap of faith and decided to enter his name on the ballot, at the same time making the choice to come out:
...all my life I have been trying desperately to fit into a male role, and just be one of the guys. For those of you who are unaware, I identify as a FTM (female to male) transgender. This means that I plan on eventually having gender reassignment surgery and taking testosterone, ultimately becoming a male. This is the first time I have really come out and said this publicly. Most of my close friends already know, and I've been listed as male on Facebook for years, but I suppose now is a really good time to just get this out there. I honestly don't expect to get enough votes to get on court in the first place, but just know that every vote, no matter how few it is, means the absolute world to me. Its really not about getting on court at all for me, but about the support. Vote for me to show your support, and really to show Richland and other schools in the area that it's okay to be yourself, even if the world doesn't quite understand you. Gender isn't about what's between your legs, it's about what's between your ears, and what's in your heart.
But, the thing is, Caron was wrong about one thing: he actually did get enough votes to get onto the homecoming court, and was then faced with the decision of being on the women's court (the school magnanimously offered to let him bring someone of any gender as a date) or not attending. The school claimed that “state law” forced their hand, and Caron decided to fight, even though he'd rather be focusing on college applications and SAT scores.
My rights and subsequently the rights of every trans person in any public school in PA have been infringed upon. I will not rest until there is justice for me and others in this or a similar situation, and I assure you the fight has just begun.
Something else he might not have expected occurred too: as he and his moms went to bat, the queer and trans community from around the country started to pay attention, and his story became a news item. Stories like this one are a great way to network and build bridges of understanding, because they speak to something very basic: who wants to deny someone his right to participate in high school rites of passage? Like the trans prom and homecoming kings and queens who have gone before him, Caron is a trailblazer, and he's also become an unexpected symbol of something important.
It's a big burden to place on the shoulders of one young man, highlighting how a single action can become radical by accident, putting someone in the unexpected position of being a spokesperson or representative of a movement. Caron might not necessarily have wanted that for his senior year, even with his previous activism, but now he's been thrust into the role, and he's taking it on with aplomb. He's talking to the local paper, and last night, he spoke up passionately at a school board meeting about the situation.
He hit back on the legal corner, citing the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act and noting that the school was committing an act of discrimination. Furthermore, he provided copies of his newly-adjusted driver's license, which now bears the correct gender marker, demolishing the school's argument that his driver's license should determine which ballot he should be placed on.
Astoundingly, the school board said they needed to “mull” their policies.
Here's the lovely comment made by the board's counsel, Timothy Leventry: “Mentally and emotionally she believes she is male.” Yes, that's right, “she” “believes.” This framing of transsexual people as deluded and sick is not uncommon, but that makes it no less gross, and it's a big problem when it's the prevailing attitude among people who play a big role in making policy decisions that affect trans people. Leventry went on to add that the law apparently decides gender, and thus that the school simply had to comply with the law.
I had no idea the law was so heavily invested in my gender identity!
Naturally, the local media also had to seek out opposing views, including the obligatory comment from a parent threatening to withdraw her kids and send them to private school if Caron's “lifestyle choice” was affirmed by the school. The fact that one of the comments below the article notes that “As far as this being a life style CHOICE that is BULL. WE are who we are we Didn't ask GOD to be this way this is who he chose us to be” presents a delicious juxtaposition and a challenge to the idea that Christian values are incompatible with being trans.
The school board has promised to resolve the issue in time for the homecoming dance. Meanwhile, Caron is surrounded by growing numbers of supporters fighting along with him, because this isn't just about a high school dance, it's about a larger political and cultural symbol. It's about Caron's right to be recognized as who he is, and about the urgent need for better policies to protect trans teens in school environments.
Coming out as trans in school is stressful enough. Caron was fortunate to have the support of many classmates and teachers, when other trans students often struggle with bullying and abuse from other students as well as teachers and administrators. But this shouldn't have to be a matter of luck: trans students should be protected, and should find the school environment safe and comfortable, because school is a place for learning. Learning includes respect for all people, something that the administrators at Richland apparently missed.
Here's a solidarity fist for you, Mr. Caron, and here's hoping the school board gets it together in time for you, and the trans students you're fighting for by proxy, to get justice.