Missouri school makes accommodations for transgender students


Image by Trevor Currie

His mother teased him about it and his father told him to stop seeking attention. He said his family practically disowned him for it. His peers and teachers refused to use male pronouns around him, and he was not allowed to use the male restrooms, or try out for the male sports teams, even though he has identified as male for as long as he can remember.

“I was already really uncomfortable with myself,” Ethaniel Skelton, freshman, said. “It made me feel even more uncomfortable that they wouldn’t accept me.”

Skelton came out as transgender to his family and classmates at his school in Springfield, Missouri last year.

Skelton said he received absolutely no respect until he moved to Kirkwood. At KHS, his name reads Ethaniel Skelton on his ID, and he is considered male by nearly everyone, a sharp contrast from the treatment at his old school. He is able to use his preferred bathroom, and looks forward to trying out for the male basketball team after beginning hormone treatment. He said his situation has improved tremendously, but still experiences students at KHS misgendering him (calling him the incorrect pronoun). However, he remains optimistic, happy to be in a more open-minded community than he was previously.

Words matter. You may not think [a word] is a big deal when you use it, but you don’t know who’s around you, and no matter what you think, it’s offensive, because it hurts.”

— Peter McCoy

“It sucks, but you’re going to have people who don’t accept you anywhere you go,” Skelton said. “It’s just something that comes with it, that you have to deal with.”

KHS is striving to ensure the comfort and safety for transgender students like Skelton. At the last department chair meeting, Linda McKeon, KHS’s lead school nurse, reminded faculty that transgender students have the option to use the nurse’s bathroom, rather than facing the discomfort of using the boys’ or girls’ restrooms.

According to Dr. Mike Havener, principal, this policy is nothing new. He said the safety of students at KHS has always been a top priority, regardless of the student’s gender identification.

When a student comes out as transgender, Havener said the first step is to have a meeting with the parents of the student prior to school starting to lay out a plan, making sure the student will feel comfortable attending school. These meetings generally cover P.E., locker rooms and bathrooms, in addition to the way the student wishes to be addressed by teachers and students. While this typically brings success, Havener said there have been instances in which a teacher uses the wrong pronoun, but situations like that have been addressed. He hopes it will not happen again.

“My hope is that everyone respects individuals for who they are, and that we treat every individual with the respect they deserve,” Havener said.

Daniel Bourstein, sophomore, feels KHS has, in fact, mostly been a safe environment for transgender students. Bourstein came out as transgender last January, and has received nothing but support from the people around him. While he came out in January, he has felt more masculine his entire life, such as feeling uncomfortable when forced to wear a skirt to attend catholic grade school. When he hit puberty in the 5th grade, the discomfort intensified to a nearly unbearable level, Bourstein said. Before transitioning, Bourstein experienced severe anxiety due to his discomfort.

“I felt like I was sitting in a chair that was falling over, and there was nothing I could do to stop it,” Bourstein said. “My anxiety was like that for three years. Three years of falling out of a chair.”

My hope is that everyone respects individuals for who they are, and that we treat every individual with the respect they deserve.”

— Dr. Mike Havener, principal

After coming out as transgender and beginning hormone therapy, Bourstein said he feels confident about himself and is not as worried about how people view him. His biggest issue is when teachers and students still refer to him by the wrong pronouns, but Bourstein said that does not happen often. Whenever this happens, he tries to correct them as politely as he can. However, he becomes more frustrated the more it happens.

Unlike Bourstein and Skelton, Peter McCoy, junior, has had a negative experience at KHS. McCoy realized he was transgender while in middle school, although he said he always felt more masculine growing up. He came out in middle school, but only to his close friends and family. After fully coming out in high school, he has not felt his needs have been met.

Teachers and students generally call him the correct pronouns, but he said he is unable to use the men’s bathroom. He said using the teacher’s and nurse’s bathroom is inconvenient and out of the way. However, this is better than using the women’s bathroom, McCoy said. He is most upset the process to put his preferred name in the school system is tedious. McCoy said having his birth name in the school system becomes harmful when teachers pull up class rosters in front of the class.

“It’s dangerous for people to know the birthnames of trans people, because students can use their birthnames against them,” McCoy said. “Students who don’t accept trans people will use these names instead of their real names. It’s something that needs to change.”

McCoy said people usually do not call him by his birth name, although they did some in middle school. He said in middle school people were widely unaccepting of him and his situation. Although this has improved in high school, he still thinks it could be better. He encourages students and teachers to be aware of what they say, and how they treat people.

“Words matter,” McCoy said. “You may not think [a word] is a big deal when you use it, but you don’t know who’s around you, and no matter what you think, it’s offensive, because it hurts.”

For more experiences with transgender teens check out the sidebar video.

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