The Kittery School District and the community are making a positive difference in creating a policy that shows transgender students they will be treated equally, with dignity and respect.
Ensuring equal rights for all people should be a simple concept and universally embraced. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Kittery’s new policy is thankfully part of a growing trend that includes a new law passed in New Hampshire this year.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Kittery policy is how the school administration, School Committee members, parents and students came together to make it happen, speaking out with emotion and compassion and addressing opposition that shows a great deal of education is still needed in our society on transgender issues.
It was heartening to see Traip Academy students William Heffron and Jeremy Clifford address the School Committee before it approved the transgender policy. Heffron said his transgender friends are “the kindest, gentlest ... least dangerous people I know.” School Committee member Anne Gilbert said the committee’s “first and foremost responsibility is to protect our students, all of our students.” Committee member Kim Bedard was in tears as she spoke about meeting a transgender person years ago, shaping her views.
The policy, which passed unanimously, says Kittery schools will honor the wishes of students regarding gender identification, names and pronouns. This includes school identifications, classroom rosters, certificates, diplomas and yearbooks. It also states students can use restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities corresponding with the gender identity they assert at school.
That last part is what fear-mongering opponents of transgender equity laws and policies call out every time. It happened again at Kittery’s School Committee meeting Tuesday night, when resident Susan Wiswell raised concerns about a boy pretending to identify as a girl so he could go in a girls locker room and sexually assault someone. These “bathroom myths” are always presented in the scariest way possible by people who don’t want to grant equal rights to all people.
The truth is sexual assault is illegal, of course, and remains illegal, and we as a society simply need to allow people to go to the bathroom when nature calls. That’s it. Schools don’t allow assault or any inappropriate behavior in bathrooms and locker rooms, and a transgender policy doesn’t change that. In New Hampshire, when this issue was raised, Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso, who recently retired, testified that statistically transgender people are far more likely to be victims of assault than assailants. Many schools in our states and around the nation have had policies similar to what Kittery is adopting for a long time. This includes Portsmouth, which adopted its policy in 2016.
In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday signed into law a nondiscrimination bill passed earlier this year. “Discrimination – in any form – is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die spirit,” Sununu said in a statement he released about signing the bill. “If we really want to be the Live Free or Die state, we must ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
New Hampshire already specifically prohibits discrimination based on age, sex, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability, national origin or sexual orientation. Now “gender identity” will be added to that list, and New Hampshire will join all other New England states with similar laws.
The New Hampshire law is a simple change that makes a big difference. This change and the Kittery school policy send a much-needed positive message about humanity and equality in our communities.
We need laws and policies that give everyone equal protections.