FOSTORIA, Ohio — A transgender student in northwest Ohio will be allowed to follow the female dress code at Sunday’s graduation despite a conflict with school policies.
Fostoria High School senior Chris Calderon-Perez said principal Tom Grine has allowed the exception after consultation with district officials, the Fostoria Review Times reported.
Calderon-Perez, who was born male but lives as a female, was initially told she would be required to dress as a male to participate in commencement. The 17-year-old said that felt “completely awful” after living as a female for the past two years, including when attending the prom.
“All I want to see is my mom proud of me, to see me walking — because I deserve it,” Calderon-Perez said. “My academic achievement has nothing to do with my appearance.” The family moved to the area from Puerto Rico in 2010.
Calderon-Perez said her first discussion with Grine on the topic was professional, but it was still a blow.
“It just threw me off,” she said. “I was disappointed. I felt like I was less than anyone else.”
Grine said he sought to enforce the dress code laid out in the student handbook, which requires that male students wear a dress shirt, tie and black robe while female students wear a red robe.
“My job is to enforce board policy the way it reads,” he said.
The clearly distinct gender lines referenced in the dress code appeared to run counter, however, to a school board policy on nondiscrimination that had been updated in March to include gay and transgender students in protected classes.
Jennifer Kahler, a Tiffin attorney who has spoken to hundreds of transgender youth in the U.S. and abroad, said enforcing the male dress code on Calderon-Perez would “absolutely” have qualified as discrimination.
Kahler said she was surprised the district would have a problem with allowing Calderon-Perez to dress as female for commencement, since the senior has been attending school as female for so long. Grine said there had been no student or parent complaints.
Thomas Guernsey, president of the Fostoria Board of Education, said the district doesn’t want any student to feel uncomfortable.
Article continues belowHe said the board didn’t have a lot of time to resolve the policy conflict ahead of this year’s graduation, however. Future options could include changing policy to allow transgender students to adhere to the dress code of the gender with which they identify or using black robes for all students.
“It’s a tricky situation,” he said. “It’s probably going to happen more and more as society evolves in this manner, and this probably won’t be the last time we deal with this.”
In a similar incident, a transgender male student at a Catholic high school in Albuquerque, N.M., skipped his graduation because the school told him he must wear the white gown reserved for females, or not participate in the ceremony.
And in Pennsylvania, Issak Wolfe, a transgender teen will be allowed to wear the black graduation gown reserved for males, but school officials said he will be announced by his female birth name as he walks across the stage.