Dr. Tom Ableri on creating a transgender student school policy

Dr. Tom Ableri on creating a transgender student school policy



I wasn't an authority on that. And in my mind, back then, this was even before
Caitlyn Jenner, right? So it wasn't something in national talk that
I'd paid any attention to. And now it was being put on my plate– 'When we get back from spring break, you're going to have an issue on your hands. Get ready.' So I picked up the phone and called my legal
counsel and said, 'Do we have any policy?' 'No, we don't have any policy on this.' All right… 'Can you direct me to any legal authority on this?' So the general counsel sent me this 30-page
article called, 'Which Way to the Restroom?' through the National Council of School Attorneys. And so I'm reading up how gender identity
and what transitioning meant as far as gender identity and transgender students, and then
how it had been approached in the courts. Not just through schools but also in the workplace–largely nurses and in the healthcare, there was a lot of… there were several more
legal decisions made that went up through the higher courts. The lower courts… it's kind of like… at
the lower courts, there's just a lot of, you know, political maneuvering going on. But as you get up to the higher courts, there's
a lot more legal standing behind the decision. And every single gender identity case that
I came across, in that article as well as whatever I could research independently, was
finding that number one, courts recognized gender identity as a real thing–which sounds
offensive to say it that way now, but back then you're like, 'Are these people
just making this stuff up? What's going to stop me from saying, I have
a gender identity crisis. I'm going to walk into the girls' restroom
and perv on everybody'? You know, that's the kind of discussions we
were having in 2014. I think it's better now five years later,
that that sounds offensive, because at the time, that was the norm for us to even engage
in that discussion, and for us to understand– when I say 'us,' I mean our school
and really our community. So after the research that I found I consulted the attorney for the state association of school administrators and said, 'Hey, is there any legal standing there?' And basically he's kind of a country guy and saying, 'Well, you know, there's no law of the land on this… You know, it's… Yeah, there's no law of the land
on something like this, Tom. So you might want to go with
whatever your board says.' Well, the board says, well, it's your legal
authority to make that decision. (Thanks a lot, board!) The scary thing was–and that's where this
happened–so when I came back and said, 'Look, I feel like I have a legal responsibility to defend… Number one, this is a real issue that is being
addressed in the courts, and every court case that I've found that went to a higher court
found it as an issue of Title IX and/or the Equal Protection Clause in the United States Constitution. So this… You can draw parallels with race and gender
and all those things that have happened over the last hundred years with regards to equality issues. But ultimately, the courts recognize that
a transgender person is officially recognized as that gender identity. Therefore, we have a legal responsibility
to do that as well. So, it doesn't sound like very compassionate
towards gay people, if you don't mind me saying it that way. 'Cause that's what people were saying–'Oh,
you're doing advocacy, right?' No no–don't ever… I believe all people need advocates, and I
believe that especially our oppressed, and oppressed populations, need advocates, but
I want this to be seen and viewed and analyzed as a legal decision. Because if I'm sitting in a higher-level court,
I want to say that this decision was based on legal analysis and my professional responsibilities
as a school leader. And that's ultimately what happened. I was invited to sit and I was the opening witness
on the stands for an hour and a half in Florida for a federal court case (right below the
Supreme Court) on this very issue– not with my school but with another school– and the Republican-appointed judge, ultimately, six months later, when he issued his opinion, was made decisions, 100 percent aligned
with everything we'd been doing at Atherton. So that was very reaffirming. As much as it was nice that the Obama Administration
came out with the guidance documents– the U.S. Department of Education, civil rights
guidance documents that were affirming those things… and a new political administration
came in and just said, 'Nope, scratch it off. That's not a guidance document anymore.' So rather than… It was nice to have an affirmation at a legal
level that the decisions that we've gone through were legally sound. So I guess when you're talking about how did
I guide that community, that was the trick. That was interesting. I'd never had any experience like that before. So basically, I go and I talk with the family. So going back to the beginning, after spring
break, I go and talk with the family and say, 'So what is it you're asking for? What is it you're worried about? What are your fears?' And you know the biggest fear this child had? Was that I wouldn't say her name, her chosen
name, for birthdays on a daily– when I read the daily birthdays. It wasn't that… She figured that the teachers would use the
proper pronoun, and that they would be understanding, but there was just this sense of affirmation
of that decision that knowing her birthday was coming up. So, it's interesting to experience this not from a political standpoint, or people who are looking at this as political maneuvering for the presidential campaign that was coming up that fall, but look at it purely from,
I have a kid sitting at my table who's asking to be treated like a human being and be recognized
for who they are and who they identify as.

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