A student at Memorial High School in San Antonio Texas is taking a stand for gender equality. Jayden Blake Castillo has experienced discrimination first hand during his tenure at the San Antonio school. Now a senior Jayden has issued a rallying cry to gender activists around the state in hopes of bringing attention to the issues faced by our youth in our public school system.
For the majority of Americans, sitting in a classroom based upon your sex never causes a problem. However, for transgender students like Jayden, such a small request as sitting boy and girl can result in an unnecessary classroom disruption. In spite of Jayden’s numerous requests to his teachers, school administration, and staff, many of them continue to mis-gender Jayden by referring to him with improper pronouns and insisting that he sit with the girls. According to Jayden, the principal of the school, Michael Rodriguez, has also refused to refer to Jayden by the proper pronouns.
… as picture day neared, I talked to the principal (his name is Michael Rodriguez), about how we were taking ‘girl’ pictures and ‘boy’ pictures. I told him I was trans and that I wanted to take pictures with the boys. He treated me condescendingly, said it didn’t matter, I would take pictures with the girls anyway, called me by girl pronouns even after I told him I was trans.
Most recently, this unnecessary demand came to a head when the school began segregating the buses by gender. When Jayden attempted to board the bus designated for “boys,” he was told to remove himself and board the bus for girls.
We take a bus in the middle of the day from Memorial to the Fine Arts Academy. Our buses were at first normal, then boys on one side, girls on the other, and then yesterday they were a “boy” bus and a “girl” bus. I got on the boy bus, and the bus driver started giving me a dirty look. She told me to get off the bus, and I told her I was a boy, but she wouldn’t listen. She contacted some other bus driver, said “some girl won’t get off the bus”, and I kept correcting her I was a boy. Then, some school cops came. They got on the bus and asked for my information (name, ID number, grade, etc.) They didn’t even care when I told them the bus lady was discriminating me. I had called my mom to pick me up and take me to the Academy, and when she came, the cops also took her information (name, phone number, address, license, etc.) I was the one in trouble.
The state of the law in protecting transgender students from this very type of indifference and harassment is complicated and most efforts Jayden could undertake will take years in Court to resolve. By that time, Jayden will have graduated and there would be little impact for future students of the school. Historically, Texas law has treated “gender” as that sex which one was assigned at birth, making many claims under any Texas law difficult. However, Federal Law has been much more inclusive of transgender people. Under Title IX, a school district generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in all aspects of the planning, implementation, enrollment, operation, and evaluation of “single-sex classes.” The U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines designed to protect transgender students in these single-sex classes on December 1, 2014. Those guidelines instruct school districts on the proper justifications behind “single-sex classes.” According to the memorandum, to comply with Title IX, it is only appropriate to use single-sex class environments in the following categories: (1) Contact sports in physical education classes; (2) classes or portions of classes in elementary and secondary schools that deal primarily with human sexuality; and (3) nonvocational classes and extracurricular activities within a coeducational, nonvocational elementary or secondary school if certain criteria are met. Vocational classes may never be offered on a single-sex basis.
Further, in September, 2014, the mother of a 14 year old transgender student in Michigan filed a federal lawsuit against against Wyandotte, Van Buren and Dearborn Heights school districts, as well as a Michigan charter school, for continued discrimination and harassment of her son . The lawsuit alleges that the districts not only failed to protect the student from bullying by his peers, but also outed him to peers and their parents as transgender without consent. The district attorneys sought to dismiss the lawsuit early on. However, just this week, the U.S. Justice Department urged the federal judge to deny the request to dismiss the lawsuit indicating that the boy has so far stated “plausible claims.”
While there are many provisions in the Texas Education Code intended to protect students and others against gender discrimination, a narrowed definition of gender used by Texas courts would likely exclude Jayden from protection under state law. Historically, Courts in Texas have considered only the birth-assigned sex when ruling on a person’s sex for purposes of deciding on the validity of his or her marriage. These complexities in the law and scattered resources make it difficult to navigate the proper course of action for people like Jayden, who are simply trying to obtain an education.
Throughout the country transgender students are often faced with choosing between their identity and the gender bestowed upon them by authority figures. The reality is that the struggles the transgender community face are in almost every facet of their lives. From bathrooms to buses, gender equity is threatened. Jayden has chosen to take action via social media and through a demonstration to be held at the school today to protest Jayden’s removal from the “boy’s bus” and the harassment he’s received from school administration. You can find the event on Facebook.