More than 500 people turned out to watch the Horry County Board of Education discuss the fate of transgender student bathroom use Monday afternoon, and things got a little heated when protestors and supporters clashed.
The board unanimously approved supporting a Virginia appeal requiring the schools to allow students to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. The district cannot join the appeal – because it was not part of the lawsuit – but it will file an amicus curiae brief to show support for the Virginia district.
A Richmond, Va., federal appeals court sided last week with a transgender teenager, overturning a ruling barring him from using the boys' restroom because he was born female. Horry County Schools was recently threatened with a lawsuit if they did not comply with the ruling in regards to a Socastee High transgender student who was banned from using the boys’ restroom – the restroom he identified with and had used since middle school.
We have to protect all children, all children are important to us, but we do have to follow the law. I will continue to fight this, in my heart and as much as I can publicly.
Sherrie Todd, Horry County Board of Education member
The district will spend an undisclosed amount of money for specialized lawyers to join the appeal “unless and until [the district] is no longer under legal binding authority to abide by the Fourth Circuit ruling and Title IX,” according to a motion unanimously approved by the board.
“I can assure you Horry County Schools will be diligently working toward a solution that will address concerns of students, parents and committee members,” said Jeffrey Garland, board member.
The board meeting room was packed from wall to wall, and most people who turned out were in favor of barring transgender students from using bathrooms of the gender with which they identify. Many people had small signs that read “Keep kids safe” or “It’s common sense,” and the group would occasionally break out into prayer or song. David Cox, vice chairman of the board, kicked off the meeting with a prayer for people who had spread “misinformation around the county” and for the board “to make the right decisions.”
One supporter of transgender rights, Melanie Moore, stood up to the crowd and argued that transgender people should not be lumped into the same category as pedophiles, rapists or other criminals. She also told the crowd that transgender students are born one sex, but feel as though they should have been born the opposite gender -- though she was shouted over by many members of the crowd.
The verbal arguments and palpable tension lasted about seven minutes.
“Everybody is concerned about their children. The transgender parents are concerned about their children too, so I thought it was important that somebody stand up for them,” Moore said.
Tammy Burger, who supports overthrowing the Title IX ruling, said the issue isn’t about transgender students – it’s about the safety of all children. She said people are worried child predators will use the transgender identity to “prey upon children,” but she wants to find common ground so transgender students will be safe as well.
These transgender students matter, too. They may be silent, but they need to be represented.
Terry Livingston, of Takeover Grand Strand, which advances acceptance of the LGBT community
There’s no perfect solution, Burger said, but there has to be respect on both sides of the issue.
“We need to try and figure out a solution for everyone, so we’re not tearing each other apart,” she said.
More than 2,300 people have signed an online petition to stop the district from adopting “a policy that will allow transgender students to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.” The district did not – and has not – adopted any new policies regarding bathrooms, but has complied with already-established Title IX regulations, said Teal Harding, district spokeswoman.
The petition says allowing transgender students into restrooms that match their gender identity “violates the safety and privacy of our students.”
Students should use the restroom consistent with their gender of birth unless the school provides a single occupant facility.
Online petition regarding Horry County Schools’ transgender restroom use policy
Jeff Ayers, executive director of S.C. Equality, said the district’s attempt to fight the Title IX ruling is a waste of taxpayer money. Ayers said S.C. Equality – which advocates human rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender South Carolinians – will monitor if the district writes a policy to determine gender identity concerning bathrooms.
“There’s still a lot of questions that need to be asked,” he said.
The meeting comes a week after Horry County Schools was threatened with a lawsuit by the Transgender Law Center regarding a Socastee High School senior who was banned from using the bathroom consistent with his gender identity. The student was suspended in January, but the district agreed Thursday to let the student – identified as “R” – to use the boys’ bathroom during his senior year.
During the meeting, most board members said they are against the Title IX ruling but have to comply to still receive federal funding. Many stated they would fight the ruling and work to “keep children safe,” though board chairman Joe DeFeo reassured the public that the issue doesn’t include allowing adults off the street to use school bathrooms.
“That’s not the case, that’s not happening. People aren’t showing up outside of the school trying to use our restroom,” DeFeo said.
The district also passed a resolution that appropriate district staff will be responsible for addressing any matters related to individual transgender students and the bathrooms they use at each school. DeFeo said the district’s bathroom policy is not – and has not been – an “open door.”
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN