Shorewood sets transgender precedent

The school board voted unanimously to approve a resolution opposing Assembly Bill (AB) 469 on November 10, which, if passed, would limit a transgender student’s ability to use the bathroom of the gender that they identify as.

The bill, proposed by Representative Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), would require school boards across the state to designate bathrooms and locker rooms as being exclusively for one gender. According to an analysis from the Legislative Reference Bureau, the bill defines gender as the “physical condition of being male or female, as determined by an individual’s chromosomes and identified at birth by that individual’s anatomy.” In addition, the bill would require the state Department of Justice to defend districts in any lawsuits that claim the policy is discriminatory.

The bill would be in direct conflict with Shorewood’s own policy concerning transgender students, which allows transgender students to use the bathroom and changing facilities of the gender they identify with or a single access, non-gendered bathroom and changing facility if they so choose.

“One of the reasons we passed the anti-discrimination policy earlier last year was because we feel strongly that we want every student in our schools to feel safe and that we don’t discriminate against students for any reason,” said Paru Shah, school board president.

“The policy says that … essentially students can use the facilities that they identify with. That’s the idea of it: being inclusive and accepting of a student’s choice of identifying with that gender and to be able to accommodate them, knowing that that needs education and support,” said Bryan Davis, superintendent. Because AB 469 goes against the current policy in place, Shah and Davis said they felt a responsibility to speak out against it.

“We felt we needed to do something and … we feel really strongly about the rights of all students to go to school and enjoy their day and honestly just use a bathroom,” Shah said. “We knew that we were one of the pioneers in the original transgender legislation and we wanted to make sure we were out in front again because we know that other districts will follow when they know we’re doing this.”

Davis agreed.

“That’s certainly something that we’re committed to here in Shorewood: to make sure that all students feel comfortable and are moving forward with their learning and don’t have things like this [legislation] as barriers,” Davis said.

Caleb Weinhardt, sophomore and transgender student, said he has felt supported at Shorewood ever since he changed his name and records at the beginning of freshman year.

“I had to adjust to being called a new name but it was in a good way, I think,” Weinhardt said. “After I was adjusted to [being called Caleb], it felt so much more authentic than before, and I didn’t even realize that it didn’t feel right before.”

Weinhardt currently uses the men’s bathroom and a unisex locker room for changing for gym. He said that if AB 469 were to pass, life at school would be more difficult.

“It would be really hard [if the bill passes], because I would have to use the women’s bathroom or a separate bathroom; I don’t even know where most of the unisex bathrooms are,” Weinhardt said. “And honestly, it would make me really uncomfortable to be in the women’s bathroom, and I feel like it would make other people uncomfortable. So there’s definitely no upside to that.”

Weinhardt also said that many transgender people can use the facilities that they identify with without making others uncomfortable. “There are plenty of trans people that people don’t know are trans, and it doesn’t matter. Nobody notices,” Weinhardt said. “But honestly, there’s a lot more violence that happens against trans people when people think they’re in the wrong bathroom. Not necessarily here at Shorewood, but in a different public bathroom, me going into a women’s bathroom … could get people saying stuff to me … because they think I’m not supposed to be there. I totally get that.”

Weinhardt said that was true for his experience at school as well.

“I don’t think a lot of people at the school know I’m trans, so I haven’t really had any issues with people [not wanting me] in the men’s bathroom,” Weinhardt said.

Weinhardt also said he is excited about the school board’s resolution and optimistic about its effect.

“Hopefully … [the resolution] … will get awareness out … that there is a school that opposes [AB 469] and supports its students. And maybe other schools will follow that lead,” Weinhardt said.

Celeste Guse, sophomore and member of the gay-straight alliance (GSA), agreed with Weinhardt.

“I feel very proud [to be] in one of the schools … opposed [to AB 469], and very proud to be in probably one of the few schools in the state that is really open and accepting,” Guse said.

Mia Pergl, junior and president of GSA supports the resolution and also hopes other districts will be inspired to write policies similar to Shorewood’s.

“I definitely think [the school board resolution will] make a statement in our community and as a district and I hope every district follows … I definitely think our [resolution] will help reach out to others and I more than strongly [support the school board resolution],” Pergl said.

The village board is currently working on drafting a resolution in support of the school board’s resolution to show Shorewood’s commitment as a community to the rights of transgender students.

 

By Eli Frank and Maeve McKaig

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