By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor
Transphobic parents in Poway go up against a bastion of support
San Diego has had a great deal of national attention when it comes to transgender children in the past few years. We’ve struggled together as a community when tragedy has hit, as it did four times last year when four area trans teens — Sage David, Taylor Alesana, Kyler Prescott and Emmett Castle — took their lives.
We have also rejoiced together as a community when presented with the humble story of the Whittingtons, the San Diego family shown above. Jeff and Hillary Whittington immediately embraced their trans son Ryland, who had begun telling them he was a boy as soon as he could speak. Their alternative was to face the fears of a similar tragedy and as Jeff has said, “That just wasn’t going to happen.”
Hillary has now written a book about their shared journey (see our story in this issue, called “No strings attached,” here), which will be released next week.
Meanwhile across town, Rancho Bernardo High School freshman Jens Briscoe also has a family who have fully supported his transition to male but he’s run into problems at school.
The 14-year-old told a local TV station that he has known since the second grade that he was a boy, but didn’t choose to come out as trans at school and start using the bathroom and locker room that he identified with until the second semester of this current school year.
According to California State Law (AB 1266), Jens had every right to do so, but he said when he did, it was scary and he “knew someone would say something.”
And someone did.
On Jan. 30, Holly Stuart Franz, the parent of another RBHS student, posted a lengthy commentary on her Facebook page announcing that her son, Jonathan, was affected by Jens’ decision to use the boys locker room, and would be speaking out at the next Poway Unified School District (PUSD) board meeting, on Feb. 9.
Franz also itemized four “requests” to abide by the state law and accommodate students like her son, who have to deal with an “awkward position.” Unfortunately her requests all boiled down to creating a separate space for trans children.
Next, instead of reaching out to school officials, Franz contacted the local Fox News station and pleaded her case in advance of the board meeting.
This made the situation an issue on a much larger scale and it equated to potentially outing Jens Briscoe on a national level.
Local LGBT community organizations quickly rallied to ensure there would be plenty of support at the Feb. 9 meeting.
Max Disposti, executive director of the North County LGBT Resource Center, attended the meeting along with Kathie Moehlig, executive director of TransFamily Support Services, and many others.
While Franz had about 20-25 supporters at the meeting, Disposti said there were more than 300 in attendance to support Jens and the rights of transgender children, a clear show of solidarity not only from the local LGBT community, but the school and district as well.
“As a 64-year-old trans woman, I never thought I’d see the day that my trans siblings would be actively engaged in a struggle for our civil rights,” said Meredith Vezina, owner of TransNarratives.org. “And it was incredibly gratifying to see so many allies standing with us at the PUSD board meeting. In my day, back in the early 1970s when I transitioned, we changed our gender markers, had sex reassignment surgery if we could afford to and blended in with society as best we could. We did our best to put the rest of the world at ease, so they would not be uncomfortable with our mere presence. But we paid a high price for it in terms of self-respect.
“I found the atmosphere at the board meeting electric,” Vezina continued. “Before the meeting, high school kids, parents and supporters on both sides of this issue were engaged in passionate conversations. It was surreal and empowering to see young people respectfully educating middle-aged adults about the law.”
Disposti said PUSD Superintendent John Collins stipulated in his opening remarks that AB 1266 is the law, that they are in contact with the state of California and the Transgender Law Center, and that they’re not going to out transgender kids because of other people’s discomfort.
Collins also called for no name-calling during remarks, requested a civil discussion, and said that the board would be making “no promises” at the meeting.
Though Disposti felt the board could have extended the open debate time by about 30 minutes to accommodate a greater number of speakers, he felt the 10 (six in support of AB 1266 rights, four against) chosen were a good cross section of speakers.
Those in support of Jens included three gay RBHS students; the mother of a straight RBHS student, who shares the same P.E. class with Jens; a local, renowned gender therapist; and Disposti — who said he had only come to show support and preferred that local students be allowed to express themselves, but his name had been called at random. When he took to the podium, he said he provided statistics that support the need to provide a safe learning environment for trans children.
Franz — whom Disposti said pushed a religious agenda throughout her remarks and whose son used religion as his reason for his discomfort with Jens — said she felt “victimized” since coming forward and had received death threats.
After the 10 speakers addressed the board, the meeting ended on a positive note, with Collins calling for a follow-up on the issue Friday, Feb. 12. However, Disposti said those in support of Franz verbally accosted him in the parking lot.
“They were so angry that the meeting didn’t go the way they wanted and that the majority of the people there supported transgender youth,” he said. “So they were trying to pick a fight outside.”
“While I appreciated the activists and professionals making their case, it was the passionate support from local parents and students that several days later still moves me,” Vezina said. “They made me feel it is OK to be myself. I was proud to be transgender. For one night, I was with the majority and it made this old trans woman feel really good. I know that this is only the beginning and there is a long difficult road ahead. But for that night I knew we were making history.”
One of the reasons school districts are getting into trouble, Disposti said, is that they are implementing the law without training their faculty and equipping them to address issues as soon as they come up. He and his staff have been training the Oceanside School District with what he calls a “LGBT competency training,” with great success.
“I brought [PUSD] the material [Feb. 12] and they committed right away to have us do the training in the near future,” he said. “We all felt this was a genuine conversation, we were able to really share with all those present the challenges of our LGBT population, how they are underserved and the role of school educators in making sure they are not left out. They asked, and asked, and asked, and they were very impressed and thankful for our presence.
“I can tell you we are very pleased with the way the district, school board and RB High School have handled this from day one,” Moehlig said after the meeting. “We believe the district will be making the right choice if they get the entire PUSD staff trained and knowledgeable to make all K12 campuses safe space for our trans and all LGBTQ students”
—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.