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This is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney admitted to practice law in your jurisdiction after hearing all of the facts and circumstances in a particular case.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

School District: A+ for Diversity

Here is a lesson in creating a successful transition in a customer-facing organization. Time will tell how this approach will fare, but I think it is well-calculated to reduce the anxieties associated with diversity.

A transgender high school teacher is transitioning in New York State. This is an issue that has arisen before with some regularity since the 1970s, though the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, in reporting on the situation, says that it appears "unique not just for this area but for the entire country." I've discussed the Paula Grossman court case from the early 1970s, and in the news there have been, to name a few, Dana Rivers and Jennifer Wilhelmi in California, Lily McBeth in New Jersey, Randey Michelle Gordon in New York, Debra Davis and Alyssa Williams in Minnesota, and Michelle Hendricks in Connecticut.

The situation may not be unique, but the aplomb with which the school district is handling it is.

Batavia, New York is a small suburb of Buffalo, and a two-hour car ride from the red state of Ohio. Rather than dismissal, reassignment or secrecy, however, the usual ways of handling this issue, the Batavia City School District held a community discussion on the issue for parents, and will discuss the issue with students on the first day of classes. There will also be a further meeting for the entire community a week after school begins to watch a video presentation about transgendered people. The district held a meeting for parents last night featuring the school district's attorney and a gender identity expert, who discussed the legal protections and medical issues surrounding those who wish to live their lives as transgendered people. The district is holding the community meetings with the teacher's permission. However, the district's attorney said the district would not reveal the teacher's identity.

Here's more news coverage: An interesting audio clip: WBEN 930 : Meeting In Batavia Tonight On Transgender Teacher A negative story from NBC News, which quotes only fearful parents: http://www.wstm.com/Global/story.asp?S=5337818&nav=2aKD This story's more balanced, and has an interesting picture: http://www.13wham.com/news/local/story.aspx?content_id=37B1967F-6A22-4437-9B1B-80DED332EC5F


Amy in Texas said...

I think that it is important to point out that the negative NBC article to which you linked was written by the Associated Press and only distributed by the local station. I am not defending the local station for distributing it; I am only pointing out that it was a cut-n-paste job, and not written by an in-house reporter.

I am particularly appalled by the following quote: "Bodie said it's a good teacher, but he'll take his son out of the school rather than let him be taught by a transgender person -- whom he called "an abomination." [Emphasis mine.] Since when is it appropriate to refer to a human being as "it"? It is fairly clear from the later use of quotes that the author of the article was not quoting the parent in using that pronoun. Doesn't the AP, a national news outlet, have guidelines for its reporters for when writing about a trans person?

Kelly said...

As a public school teacher who is transitioning (Jillian knows who I am) on the job, I am heartened by the response of the school district. I made a point of contacting the Batavia district to voice my support.

I do want to comment for a second on the approach taken. I applaud the teacher and district for allowing this teacher to stay in her classroom. In my particular case, I went to the school district and stated my desire to keep this as low profile as possible and that in fairness to all involved that I would be willing to transfer to a new school after completing facial feminization surgery next June.

While I do wish that I could stay at my school, the benefits of starting fresh at someplace new just seemed like the best thing for me. I guess that what I'm trying to say is that when transitioning as a teacher, each case is different and that when we work with the school district rather than against it, transition can be successful. In both our cases, the district was very supportive and has pledged to make things as easy as possible.