What a transphobic teacher needs to learn from an amazing 5-year-old transgender girl

Ellie (left) and Ron © Jill Promoli, All Rights Reserved.

In Texas, the latest punch in the “religious freedom” strategy has been thrown. Previously, the anti-gay movement enlisted cake bakers, florists and a hapless county clerk, Kim Davis (you’ve heard of her, right?). The latest to step up to the victim mouthpiece is a teacher named Madeline Kirksey.

Kirksey claims that her “religious freedom” has been violated because she has been asked to refer to a transgender child by the child’s chosen name and proper gender pronoun. Kirksey has refused to do so, and claims that she was fired as a result (the school denies that this is the case).

But it should be the case. Ms. Kirksey deserves to be fired.

Vanessa [last name withheld], a teacher in Washington D.C., points out why:

“[This teacher] discriminated against the child. It is the job of a teacher not only to support our students, but also to value their diversity. It is our job to ensure students are safe, physically and emotionally. By misgendering the student and refusing the preferred name, the teacher is explicitly hurting the child…on purpose. The well-being of our children is directly linked to affirming families and communities. For children, school is where they spend most of their time. This type of direct discrimination and disrespect puts the child at higher risk of self-harm and suicide. A teacher wouldn’t bully a cis student and get away with it.”

Vanessa’s husband, Ron, concurs:

“It’s shocking that people’s religious beliefs are so strong that they would not acknowledge a kid’s new name. Support and acceptance for transgender people have been substantially lacking, and my fear is how these kids will be accepted and kept safe.”

Vanessa and Ron have become de facto experts in how trans kids should be treated. Their four-year-old daughter, Ellie, is transgender. They are a family rooted in strong values. Vanessa’s parents lived the ultimate love story, meeting young and falling in love for a lifetime commitment.

Ron’s parents were also in love, but the family had to deal with tragedy. When Ron was ten years old, his dad died of brain cancer.

“The emotional scars were still deep, knowing my dad was no longer living,” said Ron. “So, when I met Vanessa and thought about raising a family, I really wanted to ensure she and our kids were what I focused on—my role as a husband and dad. They came first,” he told me.

Their son, Ronnie, was born first. Ellie was due eighteen months later.

“We had an amniocentesis and found out the ‘sex,’ but at the time we really didn’t think about sex and gender being different. We pretty immediately formed a family identity as ‘Vanessa and Ron with two small boys.’”

The amnio did not tell the truth about Ellie, however. The packaging was misleading. As soon as she was able to speak, Ellie set about clarifying who she was to her parents.

“I’m not a boy. I am a girl. I’m a girl in my heart and my brain. My penis is my only boy part. The whole rest of me is girl,” she would explain to them out of the blue, without prompting.

Vanessa was disturbed when she witnessed Ellie trying to fight her own inner truth. Ellie would lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, poking her chest and attempting to convince herself of something she was told but did not believe: “Boy, boy, boy! I have to be a boy! I have to like power rangers!”

Witnessing this struggle, Vanessa and Ron knew it was time for them to transition. Their daughter had spoken, and they had to listen. Ellie had already rejected the name she had been given at birth. She had been okay with it until she realized people would see her as a boy if she used it. So she informed her parents that she was “Ellie.”

The results of Vanessa and Ron’s full acceptance of Ellie was dramatic.

“She blossomed, became happier and just seemed more herself. We have a happy, silly, strong-willed, outgoing daughter. Before her transition, she was mostly quiet, shy, sometimes angry and certainly not outgoing. At the forefront of parenting is ensuring the happiness and safety of your children. It was clear that by not listening to her, we’d be putting her at risk, and that is not something we were willing to do,” Vanessa says, emphatically.


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