Takeaways From The Louisville Forum’s ‘Growing Up Transgender’ Panel

The Louisville Forum’s “Growing Up Transgender” discussion on Wednesday focused on the complex controversies and conversations that surround gender identity.

Nearly 100 people attended the forum at Vincenzo’s in downtown Louisville.  The panelists were:

  • Thomas Aberli, principal of Atherton High School, which recently enacted a non-discrimination policy that addressed restroom and locker room use for transgender students
  • Dr. Gordon Strauss, professor of psychiatry for the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine
  • Attorney Clint Elliott, a vocal opponent of Atherton’s new policy
  •  Henry Brousseau, a rising junior at Louisville Collegiate School who is transgender
  • Karen Berg, Brousseau’s mother

When it was first announced, the panel didn’t initially include a transgender person, as WFPL reported.  But following criticism from the LGBT community, Louisville Forum officials added BrousseauBrousseau was also a part of WFPL’s  recent series that focused on transgender students.

Here are some of the points panelists made  during the discussion:

Growing up transgender is not easy.

Brousseau said he knew when he was very young that he was not the same as the other kids.  During potty-training, he would line up with the boys, but then get pulled into line with the girls.   

“It was like society was trying to get me to turn right and all I wanted to do was turn left,” said Brousseau, who came out to his parents when he was 14. 

He said everyday is a question of safety. Harassment, bullying and threats of violence are much more prevalent for transgender residents than other groups. 

He said using public restrooms is  “like being set up for failure” and that he was “genuinely terrified” after once being harassed in a restroom.  In addition to facing harm, he said it is a daily struggle just to be accepted by his peers. 

“Between trying to pass and deciding which bathroom to use, you have to deal with the haters,” Brousseau said.

Being the parent of someone growing up transgender can be challenging, but it’s not the greatest challenge.

Karen Berg, Brousseau’s mother, said the basic elements of parenting do not change based upon your child’s gender identity.

“Your job as a parent is to love your children and to give them everything you can towards being well educated and being moral citizens, and going out into the community and having a positive impact on the world,” she said.

“And that has no relationship, whatsoever, to what the gender orientation of your child is.”

The largest impediment of transgender children’s well-being is not in the home, but in society.

“There are people who refuse to recognize my child’s gender identity, and what that does is demoralize them,” she said.  “That, for me, is the largest obstacle.”

Louisville is working to promote equality among all groups, but work needs to be done.

In 2004, then-Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson signed into law the Fairness Ordinance, which makes illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Brousseau applauded this, but he said government can take further steps to ensure greater equality.

He said those steps include more gender neutral bathrooms, addressing issues transgender people run into in the criminal justice system and more education about gender identity.

More discussion is needed.

Related: Defining Fairness

Atherton High School recently became the first school within the Jefferson County Public School district to adopt an anti-discrimination policy directly focused that includes transgender students.  A separate policy also adopted by Atherton’s school-based decision making council allows transgender students to use restrooms that correlate with their gender identity. 

Thomas Aberli, the principal at Atherton, said he was clueless to the specifics of gender identity issues when the conversation of transgender discrimination at Atherton surfaced earlier this year.

After research and conversations that he said were “uncomfortable” for him, he became educated—and in the process, understood the needs of this group of students, he said.

Aberli said conversations like Wednesday’s Louisville Forum  are important to fostering the education that leads to acceptance and understanding.

“What we do with this makes a difference in this world, there is a lot of positives coming out of this,” he said.  “When reasonable, rational people come together and have reasonable and rational discussion, even if we don’t agree, we are better informed and better for it.”

Atherton High’s school-based decision-making council on Tuesday rejected an appeal of the new anti-discrimination policy.

There seems to be legal issues blocking some avenues of acceptance and equal treatment.

In May, attorney Clint Elliott spoke before the Jefferson County Board of Education to share concerns about the Atherton student’s use of a restroom of the gender she identified with. 

Legal issues that must first be addressed before transgender students are allowed to use certain facilities.  He there are legitimate and substantial concerns for privacy when a school allows a “member of the opposite sex” into a locker room or shower.

“There is an absolute constitutional right to privacy,” said Elliott, who in May was working with the faith-based group Alliance Defending Freedom but spoke Wednesday on his own behalf.

Elliott argued that Title 9 or Title 7 does not apply to the use of restrooms in schools. 

“Congress has not amended Title 7 to add gender identity, though they have been asked, and they have not amended Title 9 to add gender identity and Kentucky Civil Rights Act has not been amended to include gender identity,” he said.

Jacob Ryan

Jacob Ryan is the Urban Affairs reporter for WFPL.

@jacobhryan

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