We looked right and left before photographing Patrick Tierney pushing open the bathroom door of the women’s restroom and then the men’s restroom at a hotel in Ontario. Just to be safe, I checked both restrooms first to make sure they were vacant. If staff saw us, we might be accused of weirdness, voyeurism or even worse – been asked to leave the premises before obtaining the photo we needed!
Why, you might ask, were we photographing the president of the Arcadia Teachers Association alongside restroom doors? It was to go with this month’s California Educator story about the new law granting transgender students the right to use facilities for the gender they “identify” with.
Transgender students are often excluded from physical education classes, sports teams and restroom facilities of the gender they identify with, which violates their civil rights, jeopardizes their psychological wellbeing and makes it difficult to focus on learning. The new law, which CTA and the state PTA supported, will change that.
In Patrick’s school district a transgender student’s family filed a federal lawsuit – and won – alleging discrimination. The middle school student, born a female and identifying as male, was told to use a staff restroom at school, and on an overnight trip, was told to bunk with a chaperone instead of being allowed to stay with boys. While the lawsuit was somewhat traumatic for Arcadia school staff, Patrick expressed relief at the outcome. Finally, he said, we know what to do, and it’s not a guessing game for schools any longer.
My story for the Educator was done at the last minute and our photographer, Scott Buschman, and I didn’t have enough time to go to Arcadia. So Patrick graciously agreed to drive 30 miles and meet us at a hotel near the Ontario Airport for our surreptitious photo shoot to illustrate the implications of the new law. Patrick was sitting at the bar eating a hamburger when we arrived, socializing with other hotel guests like they were old friends. He was speaking to them fluently in Spanish and telling jokes in a second language. I hated to spoil the party, but we had a plane to catch! Patrick put his hamburger aside and told his new friends he needed to use the restroom for a moment, and off we went. Such flexibility, spontaneity and willingness to go the extra mile are greatly appreciated. Thanks Patrick, for being totally awesome!
Personally, I’m glad to see schools begin accommodating the transgender students, although it may be awkward for some people. My daughter is a mental health counselor for Walden House in San Francisco, which helps a hardcore population struggling with drugs and alcohol. She told me that a disproportionate percentage of clientele are transgender, because discrimination at school and in the workplace led them to substance abuse and having to work in the sex trade, since they could not find other employment. That is extremely sad. If we are to change this, the place to start is in our public schools.