Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Grand Rapids Public Schools accommodates transgender student

With the diversification of American society, different groups - religious, social, sexual, cultural - are beginning to require and demand different accommodations from public schools and governmental bodies. Recently the Grand Rapids Public Schools had its first request for the use of a different bathroom from a transgendered student, Kitty, who felt unsafe using the facilities provided for girls and boys:

“I’m worried that I’m going to go in [in the men’s bathroom] some day and I’m going to get beat up and they’re not going to have any proof of it,” Kitty stated in a recent interview with News 8.

Michigan does not have any laws requiring schools to provide transgender students requests for separate bathroom or locker room accommodation. Other states, most notably Colorado, have also seen problems like these filter through the legal system. The Grand Rapids Public Schools decided to deal with Kitty’s request by creating a unisex bathroom available for her use, an easy to implement solution. Other public schools have allowed transgendered students to use the bathroom or locker room of their selection, regardless of their physical sex.  Some parents and students are uncomfortable with that solution, however, feeling it violates privacy having a person with male genitals in the girls’ bathroom (or vice versa) and that the rights of the few have been given preference over those of the many. This is a hard situation to explain to children who come to grips with their own identities over time and who develop awareness of the world outside themselves slowly. Bullying and social shunning aren't new phenomena in schools (or societies), and while no one wants to see a child suffer, people's ideas about what are proper responses to dealing with difference or identity expression vary. Many of the comments on the TV 8 article express anger over how these problems should be (and are) solved.

A child’s experience in the school can have profound impact over him during the course of his lifetime. Bullying has been a hot topic in schools and in the media lately, but it's not entirely clear whether bullying is on the rise, or whether an obsession with bullying is on the rise. It's also likely that as we encourage people to express what is different about themselves, more conflicts will arise about the appropriateness of various forms of self expression and, again, the rights of the many versus the rights of the few. It would be a step forward if we as a community in Grand Rapids could attempt to get to know each other and our individual and communal problems before we consult a lawyer or file a lawsuit.