Following President Obama's directive that public schools have to give transgender students access to bathrooms of their choice, many school districts have had to deal with ignorance and transphobic reactions from students, teachers and community members. Thankfully, people like Ari Bowman are stepping up to fight the fear.
Bowman is a seventh grade student in East Penn School District in Emmaus, PA, and a trans boy. During a school board meeting in August, a high school student addressed the board to tell them that allowing transgender students access to lockers corresponding with their gender identity violated her "bodily privacy."
In a video posted to Facebook by the girl's mother, Aryn Coyle, the student told the board she has refused to use the locker room since learning of the new directive because she doesn't want to change clothes with someone "who is physically male." In comments to BuzzFeed, Coyle said it would violate their Christian faith to use the same locker room as a transgender person.
“I wouldn’t want to change in a gym locker room where someone who is physically male is changing. The fact that they’re wearing a dress wouldn’t change my level of discomfort,” Coyle told the site.
This was the act Bowman had to follow when he took the podium at the district's Sept. 12 board meeting, which was also recorded and posted on Facebook by his mother.
“I hope you understand what being transgender means," Bowman said. "It doesn’t make me any less or any more. It makes me me. And no one can change that.”
Bowman, who said he knew he was trans since before he knew "transgender" was even a word, told the board he didn't understand the hysteria over locker room and bathroom usage.
"I change in the boy's locker room and I've seen zero genitalia, which is kind of why I don't get the assumption that a transgender girl would accidentally reveal herself in the locker room," Bowman said.
Watch the full video below:
Bowman's speech was met with cheers and applause from other audience members who had come out to support him and transgender rights in East Penn school. The Morning Call reported that several other speakers spoke in favor of transgender rights during the 45 minute public comment session, including Rev. Tim Dooner of the Faith Presbyterian Church of Emmaus.
"Fear causes prejudice, segregation, marginalization and violence. Any time we have done this, we've been on the wrong side of history," Dooner said, according to the Morning Call.
Neither of the meetings were in response to a specific policy of the district; rather, they were addressing the federal government's directive. A Texas judge has actually put a stay on those rules pending a lawsuit several states are filing against the federal government
East Penn Superintendent Michael Schilder said at the meeting that he would "uphold the rights of transgender students and to support them in whatever way possible in their often difficult personal journey," according to the Morning Call.
It's pretty embarrassing that a middle school student would have to give a public speech affirming his right to basic human dignity. At least we have brave and eloquent speakers like Bowman to do the job.