A New Jersey school has told 13-year-old Rachel Pepe that she cannot return to school this year dressed as and identifying as a girl, even though coming out as transgender earlier this year helped relieve her of years of depression.
As reported by the Asbury Park Press, Thorne Middle School in Middletown, New Jersey informed Rachel’s mom, Angela Peters, that she must come back to school prepared to dress like and act like a boy as well as use the name on her birth certificate. No accommodations would be made for her gender identity; Peters suggested letting Rachel use the bathroom in the nurse’s office, but the school rejected that idea.
Peters believes sending Rachel to a new private school that is accepting would be the ideal solution, but Middletown School District is also not willing to support any of the tuition costs. Noting that her daughter developed stress-related seizures, depression, and panic attacks before coming out as trans, Peters doesn’t know what to do about the school’s unwelcoming stance. “How can I send her back as Rachel?” she offered the Asbury Park Press, “And I am not sending her back as Brian because the depression will start again.”
New Jersey’s laws protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but the specific issue of school accommodation may be a new challenge for the state. Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund suggested, “The family would have a strong case against discrimination.”
Other states have successfully implemented transgender accommodations for young students, despite objections from disapproving parents in the district. New York City schools have instituted new guidelines this year for ensuring their facilities are welcoming and inclusive of transgender students. Back in February, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that transgender students deserve accommodations in schools, and Colorado’s Civil Rights Division similarly ruled in favor a trans student last year. California has been a flashpoint on the issue because of a new law guaranteeing transgender students’ rights, but many California schools have been protecting trans students for years without any problems.
Middletown Superintendent William O. George has reached out to Peters to try to arrive at an “appropriate placement.” For Rachel’s sake, she hopes that her story will be of use to other young people scared to be themselves. “If this helps one person, I can be happy about that, too,” she said.