District 211 transgender student's mom now happy with agreement

The mother of the transgender student at the center of the debate over locker room access in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 said Thursday she was happy with the district's deal with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights only hours after thinking otherwise.

The mother, who spoke to the Daily Herald on condition of anonymity, initially believed the agreement did not address the needs of all transgender students in the district before changing her mind.

"Our family is thrilled that OCR has affirmed the power of this agreement," she said. "We are thrilled that the district now must provide full access and dignity to all students, including those who are transgender.

"This is precisely what our daughter wanted when we filed this complaint. The students in District 211 will benefit from this new, more open policy."

District 211 officials Thursday, however, stood by their position that the agreement applies only to one student and does not provide the student unrestricted access to a girls' locker room.

The agreement, approved by the District 211 board of education early Thursday morning, allows the student to change only in a separate changing area within the girls' locker room at her school, district officials said.

The transgender girl, who was born and continues to be anatomically male, has never been allowed in a high school locker room, her mother said, so she couldn't be sure exactly how she would use the space. She said her daughter would protect her privacy when she felt it necessary but wouldn't want to be forced into a separate area simply to change an outer sweater or shoes.

She said her daughter's transition from a boy to a girl began at an early age.

"She's always expressed, since the age of 4, that she wanted to be a girl, but 'transgender' wasn't in our vocabulary," the mother said.

Her daughter became depressed over her gender identity in sixth grade, even while keeping it largely to herself. In seventh grade she opened up to her parents about what she was dealing with.

Both parents were surprised, even in spite of her early expressions of gender identity.

"When I look back it was clear, but when you're living in the moment, it still came as something of a surprise," the mother said.

The transition took place over a summer, and on the first day of eighth grade their daughter went to school as a girl with a new name.

Their child had dealt with bullying in junior high, both before and after the transition. Some stemmed from not being allowed to use regular bathrooms and being treated differently by teachers.

The family began to meet with District 211 officials during the summer before she began high school in hopes of avoiding such issues over the next four years.

The mother said District 211 was accommodating in many ways, including in the use of bathrooms where there were stalls, and in changing their daughter's legal name.

But the family became nervous as the first week of freshman year arrived and the issue of locker room access was unresolved. The federal complaint was filed after no progress was made on the issue, the mother said.

In many ways, though, high school has been a much more positive experience for her daughter than junior high, largely because her more mature peers are more accepting of her identity, her mother said.

She believes a generation gap and lack of accurate information explains why her daughter's struggle to be treated like other girls is meeting so much resistance from some parents in the district.

"I think there's a lot of misinformation out there," she said. "Before you form an opinion, how many transgender people do you know? And listen to the youth of this generation. If we take our cue from them, we could learn a lot."

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