When Ari Bowman stepped to the podium to address the East Penn School District board, no one (except his mother) expected what would come next. After he finished, he got a standing ovation and a handshake from the superintendent who vowed his support for transgender students.
Last month ninth-grade student Sigourney Coyle told the board that she was uncomfortable changing in the locker room during gym class with a fellow classmate who is a transgender girl. But it’s video of Bowman’s speech that’s been viewed thousands of times now.
“What it really boils down to me is a penis is still a penis whether covered in skirts or pants,” Coyle’s mother told the board. “I don’t feel comfortable with students physically male and female in the same locker room.”
“I change in the boy’s locker room and I have seen zero genitalia, which is why I do not understand why people would make the assumption that a transgender girl would accidentally reveal herself in the locker room,” Bowman countered in his speech.
The seventh-grader told board members that he started using male pronouns in fifth grade and recounted his own bathroom experience at school. When he was in first grade, the girls wouldn’t let him use the bathroom because he was too masculine and boy-like.
“When I see people say, ‘If you have male genitalia use the men’s bathroom and if you have female genitalia use the women’s bathroom,’ I don’t know what to say. If you think that genitalia will make someone uncomfortable, then think about the story I told earlier about the girls not letting me use the bathroom,” he said. “They didn’t care that I had female genitalia. They cared that I looked masculine and was male at heart and they didn’t care about my body parts. What made them uncomfortable was my looks. And these were kindergarteners, first graders and second graders – not grown adults who watch the news.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Superintendent Michael Schilder cited the Obama administration’s guidance on Title IX regulations regarding gender identity discrimination and pledged “to uphold the rights of transgender students and to support them in whatever way possible in their often difficult personal journey” according to The Morning Call.
“Each school’s administration handles requests from transgender students and their parents individually and confidentially, offering accommodations in accordance with Title IX regulations,” he said in a written statement provided to the board and members of the media.
Alisa Bowman, Ari’s mother, posted video of his speech on Facebook and, in a separate post about the evening, wrote, “An army of kind people packed the East Penn School board meeting tonight, and we showed them what love really looks like. My son’s comments came out strong and loud and unwavering and, damn, I am proud to be that boy’s mother.”
Watch the video and you’ll be proud of him too. A transcript of his speech is provided below the video courtesy of his mother.
Hello, my name is Ari. I am transgender. You might not know that from the look of me. I enjoy normal things. I play soccer; I like video games – just like anybody else. I came out to all my friends over the summer and they were all supportive of me. I change in the boy’s locker room and I have seen zero genitalia, which is why I do not understand why people would make the assumption that a transgender girl would accidentally reveal herself in the locker room.
I knew that I was transgender before I knew gender was a word, but I didn’t know how to express it and my mom figured out that I was transgender when I was in the third grade. I started to use make pronouns in 5th grade and I went by the name Ari.
I’ve had many people stick up for me. For instance if someone would comment an offensive remark on my Instagram post, I would get multiple text messages or phone calls saying that they would confront the person, but I never accepted any of those offers because I felt they were unnecessary.
I’ve also had my fair share of struggles. In 1st grade the girls would not let me use the bathroom even though I had female genitalia. They only cared that I looked like a guy, and that made them uncomfortable. People would call me “she” when I was younger, and I felt uncomfortable because of that. I knew I wasn’t a girl, but I didn’t know what I was at that point. People would buy me girly clothes for special occasions that would get exchanged soon afterwards.
The hate that the transgender community has been receiving recently is terrible. People sat things without an open mind as if we are not human beings like they are. And today people are valuing one another over not just gender and sexuality – what I am talking about – but also race religion looks and even political stances. No one is more important than another person.
When I see people say, “if you have male genitalia use the men’s bathroom and if you have female genitalia use the women’s bathroom,” I don’t know what to say. If you think that genitalia will make someone uncomfortable, then think about the story I told earlier about the girls not letting me use the bathroom. They didn’t care that I had female genitalia. They cared that I looked masculine and was male at heart and they didn’t care about my body parts. What made them uncomfortable was my looks. And these were kindergarteners, first graders and second graders – not grown adults who watch the news.
The East Penn I will always remember is the East Penn that has supported me from first grade until now regardless of the fact that I am transgender. I remember winning the geography bee and everyone cheering when I walked into period two language arts class. I remember the end of the year field day picnic with all my friends playing soccer and how fun that was, and I remember less than a week ago the joy I felt when I saw that my name was on the cadence list.
I remember all the friends I’ve had along the way, all the hugs I’ve had and all the friends I’ll make in the future. Because my life doesn’t revolve around me being transgender. It revolves around my family my friends everything I love and the conversations I have about algebra 1 honors questions.
As my Mom likes to say, “People are afraid of things that they do not understand.” I hope you understand what being transgender means. It doesn’t make me any less or any more. It makes me me and no one can change that.