STA joins single-sex schools in exploring the transgender topic
St. Teresa’s is one of many area private schools discussing what an inclusive policy concerning transgender students will look like.
May 17, 2016
This past year, Americans have plastered Laverne Cox on the front page of Time magazine and watched Bruce Jenner make the transition to Caitlyn. Kansas City has seen a transgender homecoming queen from Oak Park High School take the national spotlight and Kansas public schools face possible bathroom laws restricting use depending on gender identity. In the face of all this, the Catholic church has stayed quiet. Catholic, single-sex schools are discussing what the next step looks like. Could St. Teresa’s accept a transgender student? When?
Last summer, St. Teresa’s began the discussion surrounding potential transgender students. It’s been important to the school’s administrators that they be prepared with some ideas of what may happen if a transgender student were interested in applying. Much of this planning has included discussion with other schools to devise what a policy may look like in the next year or so, according to the principal of academic affairs Barb McCormick.
Many area private schools, St. Teresa’s included, have a non-discrimination policy. For STA, adding a statement on transgender students would probably include adding a sentence or two about gender to this pre-existing policy.
“At this point you can see that we don’t address gender at all, because we’ve been one female group and we haven’t had any experience with a non-female or transitional female,” McCormick said.
Were a transitioning female to want to attend the school, STA president Nan Bone hopes and assumes that she would be accepted. When approached with this situation, a lot of discussion with the family would take place to determine the student’s needs.
“We want to be very inclusive but we also want to recognize that we are an all-girls institution,” McCormick said. “It will take close work with a family to know where they are in a transitional state, for that to be acceptable just as they meet all the other admission requirements for St. Teresa’s.”
The magisterium of the Catholic Church has yet to explicitly state a position on transgenderism, but Rockhurst High school president Fr. Terrence Baum believes it will come down to a debate concerning natural law.
“There will be theologians who say that you are what God intended you to be at the moment of your birth, but then there are others who will come down on the side that the natural law could be more broadly interpreted to include how you are,” Baum said.
Serving the dear neighbor means being inclusive.”
— principal of academic affairs Barbara McCormick
St. Teresa’s, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, whose mission is to serve the dear neighbor, will defer to the mission of the sisters in conjunction with the teaching of the church, according to McCormick.
“Both [the church and sisters] identify with St. Teresa’s, and serving the dear neighbor means being inclusive,” McCormick said. “We’re not the institution for every student and that doesn’t mean just transgender people, that means all girls.”
A large part of the discussion has been concerning smaller, logistical things like sports and the state of the student’s transition. According to the Missouri State High School Activities Association, a trans female (male to female) student athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication may continue to compete on the boys team. This athlete is not allowed to compete on the girls team until completing one calendar year of documented testosterone-suppression treatment. However, a trans male (female to male) athlete may compete on a boys team as long as the athlete has undergone any amount of testosterone treatment.
According to STA athletic director Mark Hough, the topic of transgender athletes has been prevalent at conferences around the nation. Hough says that generally, gender will affect an athlete at different ages in various sports. He gives the example that St. Teresa’s pole vaulters are generally higher jumpers than boys at other high schools, but that on a professional level, men will jump 3-4 feet higher than women.
Junior Lily Levi consider themselves genderfluid, meaning some days they feel more male than female and vice versa. While they identify with the pronouns they, their and theirs, they’ve decided not to correct people who aren’t their close friends while at St. Teresa’s.
“I think people don’t understand. It’s hard for them and it’s okay to mess up pronouns,” Levi said. “That’s totally okay. For me it’s easier to go with the flow and not approach the situation.”
Levi says the next step for STA should be to recognize that there are students at the school that don’t identify fully with female. Levi understands that people will question their reasoning for being at an all-girls school, but has loved the environment too much to leave.
I’ve thought about transitioning but it’s kind of really hard because I’ve been here for like three years and it would be weird to just leave. This is my community.”
— junior Lily Levi
“This is one of the best schools, and this is where my friends/family are,” Levi said. “I didn’t know that right when I got here. I’ve thought about transitioning but it’s kind of really hard because I’ve been here for like three years and it would be weird to just leave. This is my community.”
While St. Teresa’s devises a precise statement on gender, public schools around the nation are facing potentially discriminatory legislation concerning the bathroom usage of transgender high school and college students. Kansas has proposed a bill that would require transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender assigned at birth. Students who encounter a person of the opposite sex in a restroom or locker room can then sue the school for $2500 plus emotional and physical damages, according to the Kansas City Star.
Principal of Shawnee Mission East High School John McKinney believes the bill to be discriminatory and very much hopes that it will not pass. His school has had no experiences that would indicate a student was the in the wrong bathroom for the wrong reasons.
“Being a teenager is hard enough,” McKinney said. “Going through a transition in your gender compounds the difficulty greatly. The last thing a high school should do is make that situation worse, in my mind.”
If the bill does pass, McKinney plans on building more gender neutral bathrooms and fulfilling his duty to make sure that every single student in the school is safe and comfortable. Levi believes the bill creates more unnecessary violence.
“Bathrooms can be very, very dangerous places,” Levi said. “People will not only bully you on media but they’ll physically assault you and call you the most horrible names… They identify as a woman, or a man, so therefore they are a woman or a man. They don’t go by their other gender. It’d be weird.”
As of right now, the church’s position and the laws surrounding the issue are still to be determined, but one thing is for certain: St. Teresa’s is doing it’s best to create an inclusive environment, according to Bone.
We need to be educated about this, all of us, because if any of us has a fear it should take away that fear.”
— president Nan Bone
“We need to be educated about this, all of us, because if any of us has a fear it should take away that fear,” Bone said. “None of us know truly the person sitting next to us. That person is your neighbor. How we treat anybody is how Jesus would treat us.”
She wakes up, looks in the mirror and pushes away any negativity spewing from her mind. 14 years of studying have prepared her for this day, and nothing can take it away from her. She pulls on her tartan plaid, her STA polo and pushes back her hair. ‘I’m unstoppable!’ she thinks. Her knees wobble a bit as she quickly walks through the quad, heading for advisory. ‘Good morning!’ her adviser warmly greets her. She’s conscious of the muscles in her legs and her stature over the other girls, but her worries start to melt away as she realizes no one has been shaving their legs. She’s sitting in her first ever theology class when a student leans over and whispers, “Hey, what pronouns do you use?” An initial pulse of nerves rides through her system, but she replies with, “She, her and her’s would be awesome.” The girl smiles and replies, “No problem! What’s your name?”