NOTE: In this article, the pronouns he/him, she/her, and they/them are used based on the subject’s request.
The morning meeting had just ended at St. Francis High School of Louisville. Kaden Runner, a junior at the time, was walking up the stairs when his athletic director pulled him to the side of the stairwell and told him something he never expected to hear: because of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s (KHSAA) policies, he would no longer be able to compete with the bowling team, unless he played with the girls.
Runner was not only irritated, but also disappointed. It was the first time since eighth grade that his Osgood-Schlatter disease, a condition that forced Runner to wear a knee brace, was subdued enough to allow him to participate in one of his favorite middle school pastimes: sports.
“I got really upset later in the year, probably mid‐to late January,” Runner said.
Runner had the skill and had the drive, but he still couldn’t play for one reason — the KHSAA policy. Runner is a female-to-male (FTM) transgender teen. Due to this aspect of his identity, and the 2014-2015 KHSAA Transgender Participation Policy, he was not allowed to compete with the team corresponding to his gender. The eligibility code for students participating in interscholastic athletics requires many specific prerequisites in order for transgender students to play, most of them requiring certain amounts of physical transition.
The KHSAA policy states that in order to be associated with and participate on the team that matches Runner’s gender, he would either need sex reassignment surgery before puberty (which is usually not possible for a person of that age), or he would need recent surgery and ongoing hormonal treatment.
This policy makes it difficult for transgender student athletes to participate in sports programs, and, according to Runner, suggests both that there is only one way to transition and that everyone has the money, time, and permission from a doctor to have all of these surgeries.
Policies concerning the discrimination of transgender students have been an issue that schools have been tackling more and more lately. “This is an issue that schools have been tackling more and more, not because transgender students weren’t there before, but because with the increase of visibility and acceptance of transgender people in society, young people are more able to come out at a younger age to stay true to who they are, and their parents are more likely to understand what they’re saying and support them,” said Harper Tobin, the Director of Policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality. Organizations such as the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) work with Congress along with administration to advocate for and improve the lives of transgender people whether it be regarding school, work, housing, health care, documentation, or even the criminal justice system. They work with a variety of organizations on both a federal and local level to help provide guidance and support on the behalf of all transgender people.
Organizations such as the NCTE will introduce policies that provide support and learning opportunities for school staff, students, and parents. As a result of the potential policies, students will have the ability to freely express themselves and be identified according to their gender identity. In addition those students would have the liberty to choose how private they want to be about their identity, while also being able to be identified by their chosen name without the fear of bullying.
According to a national transgender discrimination survey, Injustice at Every Turn, an analysis conducted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, students who expressed themselves as transgender or gender nonconforming from kindergarten through 12th grade reported immense incidents of harassment. 78% of surveyed students reported general harassment. In addition an alarming 35% reported physical assault while 12% reported cases of sexual violence. Due to this, about 15% of participants left school. In order to prevent these instances, protective policies are being implemented on a national and local scale.
Nationally, laws have been implemented to address discrimination of transgender and gender nonconforming students. While there is room for new laws and policies to be put into effect, the federal law Title Nine provides an accurate base to expand upon. Title Nine “prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender throughout the country.” On April 29, 2014 the U.S. Department of Education issued clarification that the discrimination and bullying of transgender people is protected under Title Nine.
Locally for JCPS, transgender students’ bathroom usage is a controversial issue that has been covered considerably by local media. More awareness on this issue can be largely attributed a verdict made by the School-Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) of Atherton High School allowing its transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of their gender identity. However, this decision did not carry over to other Jefferson County Public Schools or Louisville’s private schools.
The Jefferson County Board of Education voted to change the wording of JCPS’s anti-discrimination policy 6-1, on Aug. 24, which updated the policy to protect harassment based on gender identity. Superintendent Donna Hargens explained that under the new bill transgender students or staff members who feel threatened would report the issue in the same manner as a student who was discriminated against for their race or religion would: by going to administration and filing a report.
Valerie Pfister, a genderqueer duPont Manual High School graduate and mentor at the Louisville Youth Group, a local resource that aims to provide a safe and encouraging community for LGBTQIA youth ages 14 through 20, is hopeful that this addition to the policy will spread tolerance.
“I think it will spark acceptance in the district if the appropriate training and support is given to the staff who have to uphold the new policy,” Pfister said.
As recognition of the issue expands, Pfister and Willner expect JCPS administration and staff to develop into a more considerate and open-minded community. They also predict that the implementation of the new policy throughout JCPS will grant students the opportunity to understand that gender identity and gender expression are not something people have control over, much like other protected characteristics such as race and sex.
However, many are worried about the effectiveness and implementation of this policy change.
“I think it could be a helpful bill, but at the same time I’m a little afraid of what this will bring on trans students,” said Rowan Little, a non-binary junior at duPont Manual. “A lot of people attribute equality and acceptance in school to political correctness and being oversensitive.”
Also, in some cases, policies like these ultimately fail.
For example, very recently this was shown in Gavin Grimm and the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) case against his Virginia school board. In this case, the school allowed for Grimm to use the bathroom that correlated with his gender, but after parents complained and the case was reviewed, the district court ruled that Grimm would no longer be able to use his bathroom of choice. Some schools are working with in school programs to help prevent and mediate these problems.
The Gay, Straight, Transgender Alliance (GSTA) was created in part to help and guide schools in the creation and implementation of policies, to help them not fail. GSTA is a club for students to support each other, to discuss issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and to work to empower and inform students on how to end homophobia and transphobia. For example, some GSTA’s work towards LGBTQ visibility, reducing violence, fighting slurs in school, fighting for LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, and making schools an overall safer place for transgender and gender nonconforming youth. DuPont Manual’s GSTA president, Oberon Coverdale, listed some of the accomplishments the club has had, including “…the way bathrooms are gendered, putting gender neutral bathrooms in the VA (Visual Arts) annex and near the other side of the school…sensitivity training to all the faculty and staff of Manual…the way homecoming was done…and the organization of caps and gowns for graduation to be more inclusive instead of gendered,” said Coverdale.
Recently, Runner was allowed to change the gender marker on his passport. With this change, St. Francis submitted his new passport and physician letter to the KHSAA. In October 2015, Runner heard from his athletic director that the KHSAA had approved the change, and he would be allowed to play on the boys’ team.
“I just hope we are given equal opportunities and if we’re not, given reasons that aren’t ignorant, uneducated, or make me feel like my community has been glazed over,” Runner said. “It feels nice to be recognized and acknowledged, and that’s what I hope for.”
Words By: Olivia Millar and Melissa Scianimanico