I’m the father of a transgender child. Since 2014, my child’s preferred name has been Dave. One high school he attended affirmed his identity; the other did not. The difference affected Dave’s physical safety, mental health and academic achievement.
The first sign of trouble I was aware of was at Dave’s freshman homecoming dance at his high school in Chicago’s southwest suburbs. This was a night that had weeks of preparation and excitement. But that night did not live up to Dave’s vision.
That night, Dave called, sounding terrified. He wanted me to come get him immediately. He was sobbing and hyperventilating, so I got him out right away. Later that night I learned what happened. He and some of his friends were being verbally assaulted by upperclassmen hurling gay and trans slurs. They also made intimidating threats of violence.
When all this happened, my son followed protocol. He told an adult. The adult chaperone, a volunteer from the PTO, told Dave and his friends that if they didn’t stand out so much they wouldn’t get comments like that. In that moment, Dave knew he wasn’t safe.
Over the next few months I became a regular fixture at the school office and superintendent’s office trying to change the adult response to bullying. While fighting an uphill battle for my son’s safety and self-worth, I could not even get recognition of even his chosen name. He was suffering and it was affecting him. The honors grades were slipping to remedial levels and he was suffering from anxiety and depression. By the end of the school year, he began cutting and having suicidal thoughts.
When We Changed Schools, Everything Changed for My Son
I made the hard decision to sell our house and move to an accepting and affirming school district. Dave had to move from a childhood home to a much smaller home in Hinsdale, an affluent suburb with a higher cost of living. But everything changed for Dave.
The first change was that he was allowed to use his chosen name in the attendance roster. There was full and equal locker room and restroom access of his choosing. Finally, there were firm procedures in place to address bullying related to LGBTQIA+ issues.
The difference in that acceptance was significant and life-changing. Though Dave still suffers with generalized anxiety disorder, there’s no longer clinical depression. The feeling of safety and support at Hinsdale South led to him getting back into an honors program and excelling in many AP classes. Dave earned exemplary AP test scores that count towards college credit.
He became a leader at Hinsdale South and was recognized by his peers. This included being the president of his GSA, part of a sectional- and state-competing drama club, and a photographer and writer for the school newspaper and yearbook committee.
After scoring a 1350 on his SATs, Dave was accepted by every college where he applied.
At our old school and district, two principals, other administrators, lawyers, and other officials tried to stand in our way. It was only when our new district had the strength of conviction to accept Dave that Dave was able to shine and show what he was made of:
Academic excellence, strength of conviction, leadership and character.
Had things continued as they were? A former honor student would have graduated high school at a remedial level and gone on to be a statistic. My child’s current reality is one of thriving in college with academic scholarships that will lead to a virtually debt-free undergrad. Thanks to his AP credits, Dave is about to enter his second semester at a good university with sophomore standing.
One school district almost destroyed that opportunity. Hinsdale South gets to claim credit for excellence in achievement.
Educators reading this blog post, please use Dave’s story to advance and protect families like ours. Use wisdom to protect transgender students and allow them to have every opportunity other students have to not only be recognized, but to be their best.
Photo courtesy Hinsdale South High School via Facebook