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A Boy Named Issak

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May 13, 2013

I am a high school senior at Red Lion Area High School in Pennsylvania. As a student who happens to be transgender, my life isn’t all that different from other students in my class, except that I came out the summer before my junior year and have been going by my male name ever since. I try hard to make good grades, work at a part –time job, and have a wonderfully supportive family and an awesome girlfriend. My high school, like any other, has a senior prom. Our prom always has a king and a queen, and every senior gets a spot on the ballot for royalty. This year was my turn to get a chance at king like every other boy in my class.

I took all the proper steps to secure my name on the list where it belongs: the boys’ ballot. But on the day voting started, without warning, I found that I wasn’t on the boys’ ballot – instead, my old female name was listed under candidates for prom queen. It was the most humiliating and hurtful thing that has ever happened to me at school. Soon after, I learned that my school’s principal had stepped in and changed it because he was “uncomfortable” with me being listed as a boy. What’s more, when my girlfriend complained about this on Facebook, the principal threatened to not let her go to prom with me unless she took down her statements calling him out for discrimination.

With the help of the ACLU, we got the school to back down from that threat, and even though there wasn’t enough time to correct the ballots, my girlfriend and I still had a great time with our friends at prom a couple of weekends ago. But that doesn’t make up for the humiliation I experienced, and doesn’t mean that other transgender students at Red Lion won’t be treated just as disrespectfully in the future. I’ve asked for a public apology and for new policies to protect future students from gender identity discrimination at my school. And for our graduation, which is coming up on June 7, I’ve asked to be allowed to wear the boys’ cap and gown and for my male name to be read aloud when I cross the stage to pick up my diploma.

The school has agreed to let me wear the boys’ cap and gown, but won’t budge on anything else. They refuse to promise to do anything to help other kids like me, as if pretending I’m the only transgender student they’ll ever have at their school will make it so. They refuse to apologize to me, even though they know the principal’s actions were mean-spirited and hurtful. And they insist on reading my female name at graduation, even though I’m working on getting my name legally changed and most people have been calling me Issak for almost two years now. Reading my male name at graduation wouldn’t hurt anyone, but they KNOW that reading my female name only serves to hurt me more. Obviously, it’s more important to them to push around an 18-year-old than it is to make the school a safe space for its students. The students at Red Lion Area High School deserve better treatment and better adult role models than this.

While it’s too late for me to have a chance at Prom King, it’s not too late to show my school that the way it has treated me is unacceptable. My friends and I are asking supporters to sign this petition, which we’re going to present to the school board at its meeting this Thursday. ALL schools should try to be safe, welcoming spaces for all of their students. And my school should be no different.

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