A transgender teen alleges in a federal lawsuit that she faced harassment, discrimination and bullying while attending Grissom High School in Huntsville.

Zelda Menefee, 19, is suing the city school board, plus several administrators and teachers. The lawsuit says Menefee started transitioning from male to female in the summer of 2014 -- just before she enrolled at Grissom in January 2015. As part of her social transition, Menefee changed her name, wore female clothing and used female bathrooms, the 94-page lawsuit says.

Menefee said she was bullied by students and teachers until she finally quit school in May 2016 and got a GED. The lawsuit says she was denied access to women's restrooms, locker rooms and physical education classes.

"Zelda simply wanted to live as a normal teenage girl and have a normal high school experience, but the Defendants took the experience away from her," the lawsuit states.

The defendants include the board of education, former Superintendent Casey Wardynski, Grissom Principal Rebecca Balentine, Freshman Principal James Coln, guidance counselor Amy Langford, Title IX coordinator Shirley Wellington, and the following Grissom teachers: Connie Stephens, Jake Moran, Diane Staley, Alicia DesRosier, and Maurice Shingleton.

Huntsville City Schools spokesman Keith Ward said he can't comment on pending legal matters.

"Every child deserves the right to feel safe at school," said Birmingham attorney Abbey Clarkson, who represents Menefee. "Zelda was deprived on that right."

The lawsuit says teachers and students refused to call Menefee by her chosen female name. One teacher called her "sir," according to the complaint. Menefee also was forced to change out of her own clothing -- a knee-length skirt that complied with the dress code -- and into 'male' athletic pants and a T-shirt, the complaint states.

Menefee said the school administration refused to investigate complaints about bullying, discrimination and assault. The lawsuit says she was specifically threatened for being transgender and punched in the stomach by students passing in the hallway. One student assaulted Menefee and pulled off her wig in the hallway, but administrators did nothing, the lawsuit says.

Menefee also says the school wouldn't let her use her preferred name in the yearbook and canceled a beauty pageant because she wanted to participate.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial on allegations that the school suppressed Menefee's First Amendment rights, violated Title IX, and failed to supervise and train school staff.The lawsuit doesn't name a specific amount of money that Menefee is seeking. It asks for, "an amount that will fully compensate her for the physical injures, mental distress, anguish, pain, humiliation, embarrassment, suffering and concern that she has suffered..." The lawsuit also asks the judgement be high enough to punish the defendants and prevent similar situations in the future.

The State Department web page that once guided transgender Americans on how to update their gender on U.S. passports was removed and replaced with a less helpful one this week, reports the National Center for Transgender Equality. This comes after the department revoked multiple trans women's passports, even though documents identifying them as female had already been approved.

Although the current passport gender marker policy, which allows trans people to change their M or F without undergoing gender-confirmation surgery as long as a physician states they had transitioned through clinical treatment, has not changed, the language explaining the policy has become confusing.

“While ultimately pointless, this move seems designed to frighten, confuse, and keep transgender people from exercising their full rights under the current policy — the same policy we fought for and won in 2010," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement. "Transgender people can and absolutely should continue to update and renew their passports. That is our right and that should always be our right.”

The State Department has taken down the “Gender Designation” web page that outlined the process for changing passports to match gender identity and replaced with a "Sex Designation Change" page.

The new page has a number of changes. Links to information from the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association of Transgender Health have been removed. A new paragraph underscores that people in the process of transition are only granted two-year provisional passports. Another new passage highlights that the State Department exclusively recognizes sex, not gender identity. 

"A U.S. passport does not list the bearer's gender identity," it reads. "The sex marker on your U.S. passport is based on your evidence of U.S. citizenship and identity, including a medical certification of sex change. The sex marker may not match the gender in which you identify."

In keeping with this outlook, most uses of the term "gender" have been replaced with the word "sex."

Janus Rose, a transgender technology researcher who had her passport revoked in July, told Them, "Even if the policy hasn’t changed, something has changed in terms of guidance on how to enforce this."

“I think there’s an internal policy change to make it as difficult as possible for trans people,” Rose continued. “The goal is to create friction. They can’t change all these laws right away, but they can make it really hard.”

After coverage on the website change by a number of news outlets, the State Department announced it will return the page to its original language.

“With regard to the web update, we added language to make our use of terms consistent and accurate and to eliminate any confusion customers may have related to the passport application process,” Virgil Carstens, press officer at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, told Into. “We apologize for inadvertently including some language which may be considered offensive and are updating the website to remove it.”

One of the most important things for a trans person is their identity. We live in a world that is constantly, doggedly, trying to strip that away from us. We face pressure over this throughout our lives - and often end up losing that battle after death.

In 1993, a transgender woman by the name of Lauren Diana Wilson took her life. Her family claimed her body, and later held a funeral. From everything I was able to learn about it, she was buried in male clothing, with her hair clipped. Her parents listed her as male and under her birth name - known in trans circles as one's deadname. They kept the event private, so that no one in her life could attend.

Those of us who were her friends held our own memorial, and still do not know where Wilson was laid to rest by a family that did not care for the person she became.

I wish I could say that Wilson's story is an uncommon one, but I have heard all-too-many tales of trans people buried by families under birth names and dressed in attire matching their birth gender. There's also the even bigger issue of newspapers and police reports stripping away the identity of the deceased under the guise of "accuracy."

I recently attended a panel discussion at the NLGJA: The Association of LGBT Journalists' conference in Palm Springs about transgender people, our deadnames - that is, the name we were given at birth and may have long since given up - and obituaries. The panel revealed some of the biases within the nature of obituaries and other reporting on transgender people's deaths.

So often, when a newspaper tells the story of a transgender person after they die, they rely on police reports and immediate family to provide details of a person's life. As you can imagine from the example of Wilson, the story of a trans person's life can be stripped away, with our lived experiences and preferences erased by those who may not have had our best interests in mind.

Likewise, police reports may be only going by available resources: a piece of legal ID, a set of fingerprints, and so on. Reporters may not be privy to the whole story of a transgender person when they report on their passing. This is especially true in the more violent stories that permeate trans society.

When one relies on identity paperwork, one doesn't get a complete story. Many trans people have not been able to change legal paperwork. It can be a costly process, and some localities don't allow a complete change no matter the price.

 One of the more intriguing - and frustrating - parts of the overall discussion was the issue of accuracy. That is, if one is telling a complete story of a person's life, should one feel the need to delve into a deadname as well as a gender identity long since dropped?

To me, it becomes an issue of accuracy versus truth. It may indeed be accurate, for example, to include the name I was born under, answered to, and used on legal documents until I was in my early 20s - but this isn't exactly my truth. That surely isn't me, and isn't my identity now. It's not the person who pens these words, or has been under this name and gender for the more than half of this life.

I know it becomes all the more convoluted when a transgender person is also someone notable. I'm sure that a certain Olympian who was the subject of a very public gender transition will have her deadname added to every single obituary the day she passes - all the while knowing that many other celebrities do not see their non-stage names presented in the same way.

Of course, I am mindful that an obituary - indeed much of what happens after one shuffles off their mortal coil - is no longer for the husk of a body left behind, but for those who survive. An obituary is a way to reach out to friends and family, and announce the passing of someone that all these people cared about. In this discussion of obituaries, an argument was put forth: how would someone who knew me in high school know that I passed, given the name in the yearbook is so very different from the one I wear now?

To me, that's largely irrelevant for one big reason: those who knew me then - and who I still may maintain at least a nodding acquaintance - are aware of my transition, and know who I am now. Those who somehow missed the memo are not likely to be the people I would care to know about me alive or dead: that bully from freshman year who is now spending time in San Quentin State Prison, for example.

I'm not sure there's a complete answer, but I do know that if someone was to try and pen what I'd consider a true obituary of a transgender person, it would be just as easy to discuss their transition in language that makes it clear that whatever gender or name they were born with is not the accurate one.

To be trans is to reveal deep inner truths, and shed an erroneous gender assignment. Who we were seen as by others up to a given part of our lives is not the sum of our lives, and, in my opinion, misses the whole point of being transgender in the first place.

We are the authors of our lives, and our identities matter.

A first-of-its-kind study being released Wednesday refutes the premise that the state’s transgender antidiscrimination law threatens public safety, finding no relation between public transgender bathroom access and crimes that occur in bathrooms.

Researchers at the Williams Institute, a think tank focused on gender identity at the UCLA School of Law, examined restroom crime reports in Massachusetts cities of similar size and comparable demographics and found no increase in crime and no difference between cities that had adopted transgender policies and those that had not. The data were collected for a minimum of two years before a statewide antidiscrimination law took effect in 2016.

Activists who want to undo that state law through a ballot question in the Nov. 6 election have focused their campaign message on bathroom safety concerns. They suggest that a new right for transgender people infringes on everyone else’s privacy rights, and could be abused by men who want to prey upon women and children in ladies’ rooms. The vote is being closely watched nationwide because it offers the nation’s first public referendum on transgender rights in the state that first introduced gay marriage.

Transgender activists bristle at the idea that the campaign casts them as potential sexual offenders and have argued that there is no evidence that the law threatens anyone’s safety.

A spokesman for the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign, which is working to preserve the law, said the Williams Institute study reaffirms that stance.

“It really takes the wind out of the sails of our opponents who have been trying to paint this false picture,” said spokesman Matthew Wilder.

Yvette Ollada, a spokeswoman for the “Vote No on 3” campaign, said she could not speak to the study before reviewing it, but she questioned its objectivity since the opposing campaign was anticipating its release.

“If it’s unbiased, wouldn’t they send it to both campaigns?” Ollada said.

Wilder said his group was notified that the study would be released only after it was complete. “This was a completely independent research project,” he said. “We didn’t even know it was underway.”

The Williams Institute studies gender identity and sexual orientation, but the lead researcher maintained that its work is not always positive for the LGBTQ community.

“We talked about it before we started this research: What happens if we find out there is some sort of danger in this law?” said lead author Amira Hasenbush “If we had found one, we would have published that, too.”

The peer-reviewed study, published in Sexuality Research and Social Policy, focused on the years before Massachusetts adopted a statewide law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity. Prior to that time, select municipalities had adopted local ordinances that had a similar effect: allowing transgender women into ladies’ rooms and transgender men into men’s rooms.

“Massachusetts was like this perfect petri dish,” said Rachel Dowd, a spokeswoman for the Williams Institute. “Different localities started to adopt it, and there was enough that allowed us to look at crime statistics over two years. And right as we were wrapping up our research, Massachusetts passed the statewide law.”

Under the 2016 Massachusetts law, any public place with separate areas for men and women must let people use the space consistent with their gender identity — a term that refers not to their biology, but to their sincerely held gender identity, appearance, or behavior. The activists who want to repeal the law say it could be abused by male predators and threaten privacy and safety of women and girls.

But until now there has been no empirical data to bolster or negate their concerns.

To establish the scope of the issue, researchers used public records requests to obtain police incident reports and compare bathroom crime data in cities with antidiscrimination laws — Medford, Melrose, and Newton — with comparable towns that lacked them. They paired each city with communities that were comparable based on a host of data, including crime and population demographics, poverty, and voting trends.

Medford was compared to Beverly and Watertown; Melrose was compared to Beverly; and Newton was compared to Brookline and Arlington.

Then, rather than looking at numbers alone, the researchers compared the differences in each locality over time to judge whether a change in bathroom crime could be attributable to the enactment of a transgender accommodation law.

“We did pretty much the most comprehensive study you could do for the state of Massachusetts,” said Hasenbush .

The study notes its limitations — largely on the quality of the data. Each police department had a different system for record-keeping; some were able to search manually, some electronically, and the researchers had to review the records to identify the incidents.

Still, researchers concluded that there was no statistically significant relationship either in the number of crimes occurring in any individual locality with a transgender accommodations law or in comparison to its matched pair. In fact, the average number of restroom incidents was higher in localities without transgender accommodations laws.

Moreover, the study noted: “Reports of privacy and safety violations in public restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms are exceedingly rare.”

That’s not to say that incidents don’t ever happen, however, the authors note.

Beyond the study, police departments report that they are seeing more “peeping Tom” cases — a factor they attribute less to gender politics than to advancing technology and the tiny cameras that are increasingly being used to spy on women in bathrooms. In June, a woman reported that a man seemed to be using a pen-like device to videotape her through a hole in the wall of a bathroom at the Garment District, the resale clothing store near Kendall Square, said Cambridge police spokesman Jeremy Warnick. Police were able to identify, but not apprehend, a suspect.

However, anecdotal reports of crimes in bathrooms seldom involve suspects who are — or are pretending to be — transgender.

And anyone, regardless of gender identity, can be arrested for criminal activity in a bathroom, Wilder said.

“If people — transgender or not — go into these spaces with the intent of committing a crime, they are still going to be prosecuted,” Wilder said. “There are still laws that prohibit that.”

Gender identity strongly influences the likelihood a teen will attempt suicide, a new study finds.

Nearly 14% of teens who participated in a survey reported trying to kill themselves, with transgender teens reporting the highest rates of suicide attempts. Among female to male teens, the language the study uses for transgender male teens, more than half (50.8%) said they'd tried to take their lives, according to the study, published Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics.
 
"Gender identity is one's own understanding of being male, female, neither, or both," Russell B. Toomey, lead author of the study and an associate professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona, wrote in an email.
 
For most people, their sense of being male or female aligns with what's listed on their birth certificate, he said. However, "a smaller proportion of the population identifies as transgender, which includes people whose internal sense of gender identity" is not consistent with their gender at birth.
 

'Discrimination, victimization, and rejection'

The new study is based on data from the Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors survey produced by Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit focused on youth issues. The survey includes self-reported responses from 120,617 people between the ages of 11 and 19, beginning in June 2012 and ending in May 2015.
The sample included 202 teens (0.2%) who identified as male-to-female transgender, 175 (0.1%) who were female-to-male transgender and 344 (0.3%) not exclusively male or female transgender, also called nonbinary. About 0.9% of the surveyed teens (1,052) reported questioning or not being sure of their gender identity. Additionally, 50.6% (60,973) of females identified as female, and 48% (57,871) of males identified as male. (The researchers rounded up the percentages for publication.)
Asking for help

The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.

There is also a crisis text line. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

The lines are staffed by a mix of paid professionals and unpaid volunteers trained in crisis and suicide intervention. The confidential environment, the 24-hour accessibility, a caller's ability to hang up at any time and the person-centered care have helped its success, advocates say.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

Among the survey questions: "Have you ever tried to kill yourself?"
More than 14% (17,007 respondents) said they had, which is in line with other research, Toomey and his colleagues wrote.
In addition to high rates of suicide attempts among female-to-male transgender respondents, 41.8% of adolescents who identified as neither male nor female said they'd attempted suicide; 29.9% of male-to-female transgender respondents, 27.9% of questioning adolescents, 17.6% of females identifying as female and 9.8% of males identifying as male responded the same, the study found.
 
Toomey believes that "research is critically needed" to understand why suicide attempts are highest among transmasculine (female-to-male youth) and nonbinary youth (neither male nor female).
 
What is known is that transgender teens are more likely "to experience discrimination, victimization, and rejection, which are all associated with increased risk for suicidal behaviors," he said. "Other research suggests that the lack of connection and belonging, as well as feeling like a burden to society, are key predictors of suicidal behavior."
Family support is a game-changer, Toomey said: When transgender youth feel that support, "they are more likely to thrive and exhibit similar levels of psychological functioning" as their peers.
 
Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at Children's Hospital of Orange County in California, said the numbers are generally higher in all populations that "have increased stigma attached to them -- or a lack of understanding."
 
Feeling marginalized, stigmatized and isolated also "leads a lot of kids to that level of hopelessness and helplessness, which is one of the things that can fuel depression and substance use," said Huszti, who was not involved in the new study. She added that "substance use and depression together can also make you more at risk for suicide."
 
Huszti said suicide is "the second leading cause of death" among teens.
Why are teens so vulnerable?
 
"That's the million-dollar question, because we're seeing those rates rise," Huszti said.
"They're very impulsive," she said. "For adolescents, in particular, a large percentage -- I think it's like 50% to 60% -- make an attempt within 30 minutes of having the idea. Their brain isn't developed enough."
Substance users "might be a little more inclined to be disinhibited," she said. Lacking the ability to access resources is another key factor. Although adults can simply choose to see a counselor, "as a teen, you might have to say to your parents, 'I need to go and see a therapist.' "
 
"It's probably also somewhat hormonal," Huszti said, explaining that a leap in the numbers of females experiencing depression occurs "around the time they hit puberty, and they have a lifetime greater risk of depression than do males."
Carl Tishler, an adjunct associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at The Ohio State University, said the study's finding of a comparatively higher rate of attempted suicide among transgender youth "speaks to confusion."
"These are young people who are not clear who they are on the outside versus who they are on the inside," said Tishler, who was not involved in the research. "We, as professionals and parents and teachers and coaches, have to pay close attention to these young people."

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