Frederick County became the fourth school district in Maryland to create a policy specifically supportive of transgender students in the spring of 2017. A few months later, a mother and her daughter sued the school board that adopted that policy.
The mother and daughter, who are listed as Mary Smith and Jane Doe in the complaint, charge that the policy invades the daughter’s privacy and deprives the mother of her right to protect and care for her daughter when she’s at school.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Many say the policy was the most inclusive and comprehensive policy that they’d seen in Maryland thus far. At the time, one school board member praised the accomplishment, saying that the board has members from diverse political and social backgrounds, and that they crafted and passed Policy 443 after months of discussion.
The policy says schools will be welcoming and safe places for transgender students and that teachers will use the students’ preferred pronouns. It states that all students must have access to facilities, including restrooms, locker rooms, or changing facilities that “correspond to their gender identity”. And it states that any student who is “uncomfortable for any reason using a gender-segregated facility will be provided a safe and non-stigmatizing alternative”.
Jane Doe and Mary Smith are represented by Daniel Cox, a local attorney who is running for the Maryland House of Delegates in the 2018 election. He is also a member of the ADF, the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty law Center identifies as a hate group.
Cox wouldn’t return WYPR’s requests for comment, but he spoke during the public comments section of a school board meeting in June. He pointed to his previous runs for office and hinted he might sue if the board passed the policy.
“I’m a former candidate for Congress…I ran as one of the issues in my campaign on protecting children from these kinds of policies. I would note that 122,000 people voted for me,” Cox said.
In the suit, Cox claims his client was videotaped undressing by another female in an unmonitored locker room. He says this lack of supervision has made his client hesitant to use the locker room and allowing transgender girls into the locker rooms will only make his client feel less safe.
“When you pass a law like 443, you are exposing every child in this country to the potential for sexual abuse and an invasion of their privacy,” Cox warned the school board in June.
“What I gathered from those people speaking out was ignorance and miseducation. I remember thinking they just don’t understand what it means to be trans,” says prominent activist and transgender student James van Kuilenberg, a senior at Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick. Van Kuilenberg says that if he could reach more people, the board and the public would understand what such a policy could do to protect students vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.
The Facebook group he started, Support FCPS Trans Youth, let the public know about school board meetings, how to write letters of support, and posted stories from transgender youth about their experiences; experiences similar to one person’s who spoke at a board meeting as an alumni of Frederick County schools.
He told board members they probably wouldn’t remember his face because he didn’t make much “noise” during his school days.
“I learned to be invisible,” he said, urging the board to do something so other students would feel welcome to live openly.
Van Kuilenberg says that bringing visibility to these issues has been his main goal.
“The policy passing was just the beginning, not the end,”
After the policy passed in June, Van Kuilenberg and his allies created a social media campaign under the heading “#IAmFrederick” to spread more awareness and to build support throughout Frederick and the state. Under that hashtag, people take a sign that reads “I support trasngender youth because…” and they fill in the blank and post a picture of themselves holding their answer.
Van Kuilenberg says he didn’t know how many allies his group had until his public call outs for support. He recently went to a Frederick County street fair to hand out these signs. He didn’t know what to expect. But, he says, he’s scared every time he goes out into the public.
However, he says, “I knew that standing on the street would be much worse than what I hear in school.” So, the seventeen year old headed out to the crowd, arms full of signs. By the end of the day, he was exhausted – and empty handed. Two hundred strangers took signs for #IAmFrederick. \
Education reporting on WYPR is supported in part by the Sylvan-Laureate Foundation.