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Red Lion Area School District Chooses the Low Road

Sara Mullen,
ACLU of Pennsylvania
Molly Tack-Hooper,
Staff Attorney,
ACLU of Pennsylvania
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June 7, 2013

Issak Wolfe, a transgender student at Red Lion School District, graduates today. Graduation day is one of life's big milestones and cause for celebration. Unfortunately, Issak's big day will be marred by the fact that the school district has refused to respect his gender identity, and will read Issak's female birth name at graduation instead of the male name he has gone by consistently for two years.

The school district is not required to read his legal name. It could have chosen to be kind, understanding, and accommodating to a teenager who has endured much unkindness already. Instead, they have refused this simple accommodation that would cost them nothing, but would mean the world to Issak and his family.

In a June 5 letter to the ACLU, the school district stated that it was in the "best interests" of the school district and the entire graduating class to announce Issak by his legal, female name. They did not explain exactly how disrespecting Issak benefits the school or his classmates.

Although not surprising, the school's refusal to use his male name was hard for Issak to take – particularly since the announcement was followed by a graduation rehearsal at which the administration stressed to the graduating class how important it was to graduates and their families for the school to read everyone's "correct names."

School officials should be in the business of supporting students. They should model acceptance and compassion for others. Instead, Red Lion School District has displayed pettiness and arbitrariness in its treatment of Issak.

Although the mean-spirited acts of school administrators haven't always made life easy for Issak, Issak has worked tirelessly to make his school a safer space for his classmates and future students, urging respect for all students and an end to discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. Although Issak leaves the Red Lion Area School District today, he leaves behind an important legacy of tolerance. Hopefully, one day the district will be ready to embrace Issak's message.

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