After a public dustup, a New Jersey school this week announced it would work with the family of one of its students to respect her gender identity.
Earlier this month, an official at Thorne Middle School, in Middletown, reportedly told Angela Peters that her 13-year-old daughter, Rachel Pepe, could not return to school as a female. Pepe transitioned from male to female over the summer with the support of her family.
But, Peters told the Asbury Park Press, the unnamed school official said that, unless Pepe’s birth certificate reflected her female gender identity, she would need to report to school dressed as a male, and the school would use her legal male name. The official also declined to make accommodations for Pepe, such as allowing her to use a separate restroom, and did not offer any alternative-education options.
But, earlier this week, Middletown Township Public School District Superintendent William O. George 3d said he would meet with Pepe’s family to come to a resolution. According to Asbury Park Press, Pepe’s family is hoping to find a new school out of the district for her, with tuition assistance from the district.
Garden State Equality will provide LGBT-sensitivity training to administration and staff within the district, in partnership with Lambda Legal and the Central New Jersey chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
“We applaud Superintendent George for taking the right steps to affirm the health and safety of our students,” said GSE executive director Andrew Bowen. “This is a victory for transgender students everywhere. This Middletown student and students like her are heroes for standing up for their needs. We’re excited that the community came together in dialogue to bring this situation to a happy resolution.”
Peters told Asbury Park Press that her daughter was bullied in school and experienced depression.
New Jersey adopted an anti-bullying law in 2011 that is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, considered among the most comprehensive anti-bullying measures in the country, and the state also has an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law that extends to public accommodations. This past spring, the federal Department of Education issued guidance that Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded schools, extends to discrimination relating to gender identity.
“Every student in New Jersey deserves equal educational opportunities free from harassment and bullying,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Lambda Legal staff attorney. “Students in New Jersey are protected from discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying under Title IX as well as New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. We are pleased that the Middletown Township Public Schools have recognized their responsibilities under such laws and have agreed to work with the student and her family to ensure a safe educational environment for her.”
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