In the middle of last school year, Lila Perry came out as transgender. Before that, she had been living as a gay male.
But that’s not who she really was. No longer was she going to pretend, Lila said.
So this year, she told teachers and administrators at Hillsboro High School, where she is a senior, that she would no longer be content to use a unisex faculty bathroom. She wanted to be treated like other females, including access to bathrooms and locker rooms for girls.
Her decision spread quickly through the small Jefferson County school district and, on Monday morning, students at Hillsboro High School walked out in protest. During the walkout, Lila was locked in the principal’s office. She said she and administrators worried about her safety.
The student walkout came on the heels of a school board meeting Thursday that drew a large crowd, parents concerned that Lila is getting special rights at the expense of other students. Most of the students at Monday’s protest were opposed to accommodations for her. A smaller group gathered in support.
“The girls have rights and they shouldn’t have to share a bathroom with a boy,” said parent Tammy Sorden, who has a son at Hillsboro High. It is fine to be different, she said, but it is not right to give Lila special treatment “while the girls just have to suck it up.”
Students and parents interviewed after the walkout were overwhelmingly in support of keeping Lila, 17, out of the school facilities for girls.
But the school’s gay-straight alliance and other supporters held a counter protest to show that that not everyone is in agreement. Some students on both sides left after school administrators broke up the protest. Supporters said they did not feel comfortable going back into the school. Opponents said leaving school was a continuation of showing their position.
Lila said that she has dropped out of her physical education class because there is little supervision and that makes her uncomfortable. And she rarely uses the bathroom now while at school. Still, Lila said, she should be able to use the facilities other girls use.
“I wasn’t hurting anyone. I didn’t want to be in something gender neutral,” she said, referring to the faculty bathroom administrators encouraged her to use. “I am a girl. I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom.”
High school administrators referred a reporter to Superintendent Aaron D. Cornman. He would not comment about the issue, which has become the talk of the community since classes began in mid-August. He said he had to protect the privacy of students.
He did, however, hand a reporter a written statement. It said, in part, that the district “respects the rights of all students and appreciates the fact that the students we are educating are willing to stand on their belief system and to support their cause/beliefs through their expression of free speech.”
Students were allowed to protest through second and third hour classes, and then asked to return to class.
Cornman’s statement also says that the district accepts all students “no matter race, nationality/ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. We will promote tolerance and acceptance of all students that attend our district while not tolerating bullying/harassing behaviors of any type in any form.”
Lila said the school administration has been very supportive and is working to make her feel welcome. They have allowed her to use the facilities used by females.
Districts that refuse to allow students to use a bathroom for the gender in which they identify could run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, said Kelli Hopkins of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.
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