Chicago Father Speaks Out About How Public School Ignored and Undermined His Attempts to Help His Transgender-Identifying Daughter

Students walk in a school hallway in September 2012. (Photo: Hans Pennink, AP)

I pleaded that my daughter’s school call her by her legal name, use female pronouns. By refusing, they prevented her from getting the help she needs.

In April 2016, my then 14-year-old daughter became convinced that she was my son. In my attempt to help her, her public school undermined me every step of the way.

Throughout my daughter’s childhood, there were no signs that she wanted to be a boy. She loved stuffed animals, Pocahontas and wearing colorful bathing suits. I can’t recall a single interest that seemed unusually masculine, or any evidence that she was uncomfortable as a girl.

The only difficulty she had was forming and maintaining friendships. We later learned why: She was on the autism spectrum. She was very functional and did well in school, helped by her Individualized Education Program (IEP), a common practice for public school students who need special education.

At her high school, my daughter was approached by a girl who had recently come out at school as transgender. Shortly after meeting her, my daughter declared that she, too, was a boy trapped in a girl’s body and picked out a new masculine name.

Our school kept parents in the dark

She first came out as transgender to her school, and when she announced that she was a boy, the faculty and staff — who had full knowledge of her mental health challenges — affirmed her. Without telling me or my wife, they referred to her by her new name. They treated my daughter as if she were a boy, using male pronouns and giving her access to a gender neutral restroom.

When her mother and I first found out, our feelings of helplessness and astonishment made it difficult to get through each day. But I feel my daughter is a victim more than anything else.

In an IEP meeting just after she told us about being a boy, I told the school that our wishes are to call her by her legal name at all times. The social worker present at the meeting stated that we have that right to make that request, so I assumed school staff would follow our directive. I followed up that meeting with an email, but later learned that my request was ignored and school staff continued to refer to her by the male name.

We met with the school district’s assistant superintendent, who told us the hands of school personnel are tied and that they had to follow the law. But there was no law, only the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleagues” letter of May 2016 that said schools need to officially affirm transgender students. Just three months later, in August 2016, a federal judge in Texas blocked the guidelines from being enforced. And in February 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era guidelines, leaving it to the states to set their own policies.

I also learned that the ACLU has sent threatening letters to schools stating that it is against the law to disclose a student’s gender identity, even to their parents. But this letter appears to misunderstand federal law. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act requires that schools allow parents to “inspect and review” their child’s education records as long as the child is under 18.

My daughter told me that the school social worker was advising her about halfway houses because he thought we did not support her. The social worker confirmed this when I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss it. This felt like a horrifying attempt to encourage our daughter to run away from home.

We had our daughter evaluated by a psychologist approved by the school district. He told us that it was very clear that our daughter’s sudden transgender identity was driven by her underlying mental health conditions, but would only share his thoughts off the record because he feared the potential backlash he would receive. In the report he submitted to us and the school, he did not include these concerns that he would only share in person.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jay Keck