The bathroom wars have sadly come to our schools here in the East Penn School District.   A fight has been raging nationally for over a year now, as opponents of extending civil rights protections to transgender men and women have focused public attention on public bathroom use in places like Texas and North Carolina.   An East Penn family has now made our schools a part of this national political debate by insisting that transgender students be excluded from the locker room their daughter uses at Emmaus High School.

Regardless of your knowledge of our district’s transgender population or your views toward transgender civil rights, let me suggest that this is a manufactured controversy, for three reasons.

Reason #1: Current district practice is the result of our own policy, not that of the Obama administration.

The U.S Justice Department, under the Obama administration, issued a letter this past spring indicating that districts must not discriminate against transgender students in any school facilities, including bathrooms and locker rooms.  The letter set off a firestorm of controversy nationally, with opponents of President Obama citing it as an example of legal misinterpretation and federal meddling in state and local affairs.  The family here in East Penn have cited the letter as a chief motivating factor in bringing the controversy to our district.

But here’s the thing: The practices of our district toward sexual minorities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students were in place long before the letter from the U.S. Justice Department.  The district’s Nondiscrimination in School and Classroom Practices Policy (#103) was passed on February 23, 2015— more than a year and a half ago.  Moreover, the policy was developed after collecting input from local school administrators, local teachers, our own local school board, and local student groups.   It was presented multiple times at local school board meetings, where it was available for public review and comment by the local community.

This is not an Obama issue, a Republican vs. Democrat issue, a liberal vs. conservative issue, or a federal vs. local issue, and nobody in our community benefits from attempts to make it part of such battles.

Reason #2: Our children should not be used as pawns in political battles.

This leads to the second important reason.  We should, of course, have vigorous debate over President Obama’s policy initiatives and legal interpretations.  But we should not use the children in our schools as pawns in this debate.

Through my own conversations with students, teachers, and administrators, I understand that students are almost always able to easily and amicably come to terms with transgender students and their full participation in school life, just as students have come to terms with women in schools, with racial minorities in schools, and with gay, lesbian, and bisexual students in schools.  This does not mean that students don’t have questions and concerns, nor does it mean that they all agree with one another.  But they are ready to respect one another and respect that we live in a diverse community that values equality between different people.

The trouble arises when our kids return home and discuss these issues with the adults in their lives.  Some adults too quickly hitch the many different student identities to larger political debates and battles.  This is wrong, no matter what side of the debate you happen to be on.  Don’t make children in our local community the foot soldiers in national partisan fights.

Reason #3: ALL children at East Penn have access to accommodations

And this brings me to the third and most important point.  All our students– including the student of the family who has ignited the controversy– deserve to feel respected and feel safe in school.   Nobody is forced to undress or shower under conditions that make them feel uncomfortable.  Students routinely use bathroom stalls and other private areas.  Students who are uncomfortable changing in the locker room or using restrooms are offered further options, from changing in a nurse’s bathroom to taking summer gym.

So this is ultimately a manufactured controversy, fueled by a lack of knowledge of actual school policy, unfair in its use of students as pawns in a national political fight, and fueled by a desire for the public spotlight rather than easy, pragmatic accommodation of one family’s beliefs.

Let’s get our focus out of the bathrooms and locker rooms, and on to ways we can improve our schools for everyone.

32 thoughts to “Want to Ignite a Culture War?  Use the Bathroom (or Locker Room)

  • Alisa Bowman

    Thank you for being such a strong supporter of equality and for working so hard to ensure our schools are a welcoming and nurturing place for ALL students. Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude.

  • Amy

    Thank you for being an example to so many schools across the country. You are doing what is fair, not because you were directed to, but because it’s the right thing to do for ALL students.

    Thank you for being proactive and respecting the rights and dignity of all of your students.

  • Becky

    Thank you for understanding at the heart of all this is a child.

  • Kathleen McCormick

    Thank you so much for taking a stand for human decency, equality, and love.

  • Karen Waldeck

    Beautiful response to this ridiculousness. I hope the families that make up your community are raised up by your reason and compassion and by your obvious love of the school and the children it serves.

  • Krissy Bresnan

    Thank you so much for your common sense and for your service to our community. I know East Penn is a smart, strong, inclusive, diverse and loving community, and that we can value and respect every child in it.

  • Marilyn Bauman

    Thank you for this informative and positive explanation. I wrote to President Obama several months ago to thank him and Attorney General Loretta Lynch for their ongoing support of the trans community. In my letter I told him that the East Penn District has been supportive of trans students even before his initiative, and how grateful I am that my grandson attends school in this district. I received a letter from the President which I am happy to send you if you wish.

  • Jennifer

    I enjoyed your point about rude Rs learning and understanding gender identity and supporting their transgender friends and then going home and telling their parents and parents do not understand as they have not been educated. Such is the power of our schools! Children come home with math strategies we have never heard of, they learn things we have never been educated on and being this information home and we learn too. Thank you for doing what you do, you are doing a great job.

  • Linda

    Thank you for standing up for non-discrimination. A transgender person has no more choice in who they are than a cisgender person. It sounds like your school is a true leader!

  • Belinda

    This whole bathroom/locker room issue is ridiculous! There have been transgender kids using the restrooms and locker rooms that identify with the gender identity all along, and no one noticed until it became an issue recently. Where do you think they have been peeing all this time? Trans people would NEVER make themselves noticeable in the restroom or locker room to others.
    I am 48 years old, and I have never once seen another woman’s vagina in the restroom! Trans people use the stalls just like everyone else. They certainly wouldn’t change clothes in front of anyone in the locker room; and if they did, they’d be very discreet so no one would notice.
    Stop thinking they are going to attack, molest, or rape you! There has never been a case of this. It’s the trans people that are attacked, raped, and killed!
    And asking them to use unisex bathrooms, nurses bathrooms, or staff restrooms is “separate but equal.” It signals them out to others and may even “out” them. Just let them pee!

  • Naomi winch

    Thank you for making this so clear, fair, respectful, and just.

  • Anna

    Thank you for recognizing that our children need respect and support. Politics are stirring controversy not the kids themselves.

  • Lindsay

    Beautifully said. Keep writing, keep educating.

  • Joie

    This is how to handle the situation. With fairness to all. No one singled out, choices for those that are uncomfortable. I hope that soon that this is a non subject nation wide. Let people be who they are and treat all with dignity and respect.

  • Jennifer

    It’s wonderful that you support all students and they are all treated fairly. I love that the student who complained was offered other options. Exactly as it should be!

  • A. Levy

    Your approach is sane and humane!

  • Kristie

    I believe that every child has the same right to feel safe and secure at school and that this extends to locker rooms and bathrooms. Forcing someone to use a facility which leaves that person vulnerable, insecure and not at ease isn’t healthy to that child mentally and emotionally. Come out of the dark ages and help this child grow as individual mind, body and soul.

  • Allie

    Thank you for showing all round fairness, and showing that everyone should be respected

  • Michele

    Thank you for bringing reason into this discussion. As a parent of a transgender child, it is so important for our children to be in an inclusive and respectful environment as is our own school district and yours as well.

  • Melissa

    From a fellow teacher and mom of a transgender child, I thank you for your support! A safe educational environment where all feel respected and welcome is a right that all children should have.

  • Karen Mahmud

    WE, as a society, need to teach our children to not only accept others who are different, but to love and cherish them. Thank you for taking a stand for equality. Our voices can and will eventually drown out the discrimination, fear, and hate. Love will win.

  • Jessica Lee

    Trains rights are human rights, and our children need to learn that everyone should be allowed to be themselves! Trans children need equality and love! Thank you for helping create safe positive spaces for all kids!

  • Kimberly

    As a teacher, and a mother of a transgender high school student, I am thankful for your words of sense. My son is allowed to use the bathroom of his choosing. It is often the clinic, but he has used the men’s room, when he needs to, and is in and out as quick as possible, because he wants to get to class.

  • Annie

    By sharing truth & standing for equality for every person/student, we move our schools toward a future where everyone is included in issues of equality. All students will know they are truly cared for & valued.

  • Deirdre Grimm

    Thank you for your inclusive policy and attitude equality should be for everyone not just the majority! Let the little girl who would rather fail use other accommodations and then maybe she will see how isolating ” othering” can be

  • Ginger

    Thank you for highlighting the fact that most young people today are totally accepting and consider this a non-issue. My experience is it is for the most part older people who make a scene and their reasons seem to be based in a lack understanding of the issue.

  • Ted Dobracki

    It would seem that the responsible thing for the school board to do would be to simply inform its public (particularly students and parents) what their options are if they need more privacy.

    This would be wiser than throwing gasoline on the fire and inflaming a possible “culture war” by suggesting conspiracy theories and impugning the motives of a 14 year old girl and her parents.

    Most people might not be as well informed as insiders about arcane policies, especially when the written policy cited doesn’t provide any useful operational details. Also, it might be hard to get helpful details or answers.

    At least that’s what I would have focussed on.

  • Kathy B

    I really wish more people would READ & LEARN about transgender people, instead of indulging in myths & ignorance. The proof is in the science, & if everyone familiarized themselves w/ WHY transgender people exist, they would (hopefully) realize that this whole issue shouldn’t even BE an issue. They have no desire to flaunt their privates, & just want to be accepted for who they are. 💖

  • Lynn H

    Every student deserves to feel safe at school. Transgender kids are often bullied more than any other group. Non-discrimination policies are put in place to protect those who are most vulnerable. Transgender students just want to be accepted for their true self. Thank you for writing this!

  • Jenn

    Mrs. Coyle has stated publicly several times that she does NOT want transgender students forced to use locker rooms that are of the gender they do not identify as, so I think you should remove that opening gambit from your post.

    That said…I agree with almost everything else you wrote. I don’t understand why this is being made into such a big issue. When I was in high school the whole boys’ and girls’ cross country team changed clothes on the same school bus on the way home from meets, and it was never an issue. We just changed under our t-shirts.

    I have been told that at the middle school students are strictly NOT allowed to change clothing in the bathroom stalls because there are not enough bathroom stalls for every student who would desire to use them, so rather than pick who gets to use them, and who doesn’t, they just don’t let anyone change in them. That doesn’t mean that students are rampantly exposing themselves to each other though. I’ve had 3 children pass through LMMS and a fourth is in his second year there now, and they all assure me that students are changing as fast as they can in middle school, and not looking at each other.

    I find it ridiculous that summer gym is being offered as an option–how much is that costing vs what the cost would be to offer Miss Coyle an option like http://www.theundress.com that would allow her to change clothing without ever exposing herself?

  • Mom in NC

    If every adult could use critical thinking skills like these, we’d have a pretty great society!
    A transgender person will most likely be the VERY LAST person to expose themselves in a locker room…part of gender dysphoria is not feeling at home in the body you have, which means you will not flaunt it!!!
    For people uncomfortable with other human beings; use Google. Educate yourself using this wonderful invention called “The Internet”.
    I wish North Carolina could take a lesson from you regarding treating humans equally, our legislators are sorely lacking humanity & empathy.

  • Julie Bisgaard

    The bathroom wars are ridiculous. A transgender person’s transition has nothing to do with sex, but everything to do with identity or how they feel. They are NOT going into the bathroom for sex. In fact, that is the last thing that is on their mind. I’m sure they just want to get in, pee and get out safely. Transgender persons have been using the bathroom long before there were policies and they were making the calls using their best judgement as to where they’d fit in and where they’d feel safe. It would be in everybody’s best interest if we all just treated each other with respect and dignity – as humans!


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