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Texas’ bathroom bill would out trans students to their classmates

“We introduced her as she identified and treated her as a girl,” Pollock said. “She just has a different anatomical structure, but she’s a girl.”

Still, Pollock said, if the bill passes, the district would seek a way forward “that would be least injurious to the children.”

“It’s all hypothetical now,” she said of the legislation. “People get all worked up because they’re thinking from a sexual perspective, but children are innocent. They just want to go to the bathroom.”

Smith is just one of many mothers weighing what’s next for their transgender kids.

Teresa, who spoke on the condition that her last name would not be used, said her 12-year-old transgender daughter faced verbal attacks when she transitioned in 2nd grade. She escaped by changing schools.

“We had a couple of parents come to the school saying, ‘I hear there’s a boy going to the girls’ room,’ but the administration said they took the safety of all their children as priority,” she said. Her daughter, who is now in middle school, “is stealthy. I think the only people who know are her teachers and the principal.”

The Houston district has the state’s oldest and most comprehensive nondiscrimination policy for transgender students.

“We’ve always chosen to keep the most vulnerable safe,” said Anna Eastman, president of the district’s board of trustees, who has testified before the state Legislature against the bathroom bill.

But teachers at most Texas schools that are hiding students’ birth genders are too afraid to take a public stance and are bracing for a crackdown by the state.

Lauryn Harris, an advocate for transgender children in San Antonio’s public schools, said teachers have expressed “great empathy and concern” for students but have also been warned to change their practices.

“One teacher has received a political threat from her boss that they must do what is decided in the Legislature,” Harris said. “Administrators are afraid to talk about it outside the school, and I have to sign nondisclosure agreements.”

That’s partly because many Texas parents get anxious at the idea of their children sharing a bathroom with a transgender child.

Miranda Shugart, a mother of four in the small northern Texas town of Whitesboro, said she is concerned about “safety” and “harassment” and that the “bathroom situation should be more strict than it is.”

She doesn’t want her third-grade daughter “going to the bathroom all normal and happening to see somebody’s penis,” Shugart said. “Most of the time, it’s not going to be noticeable, but kids mess around a lot especially in places like bathrooms, where they’re together and there’s not always adult supervision.”

Texas Rep. Ron Simmons, who authored a House version of the bathroom legislation, said the measure was not meant to discriminate against transgender individuals but to preserve practices that he believes have worked in the past.

“We want to make sure we treat them with respect and dignity as we have the past 150 years,” he said.

For Smith’s son, respect means being treated as a boy — in all regards.

“He doesn’t want to be different,” Smith said. “He wants so badly just to be a very regular little boy.”

Her son, born as one of twin girls, began saying at age 3 that “he was the brother. He was a boy,” Smith said.

“He’d go pick out boys’ clothing, and I’d let him wear it,” Smith recalled. At age 4, he started asking whether his voice would get deeper and whether he would get facial hair when he grew up. “And he said he didn’t like his name and wouldn’t use it in school.”

So in kindergarten, Smith’s child became a boy, with short hair, male pronouns and a new name. Teachers stayed mum about his past, as did his twin sister. He uses a stall in the boys’ bathroom.

Smith, a therapist who was inspired to work with other transgender children after having her son, said she would sooner move her family back to her native Massachusetts than allow her child to be “outed” by teachers.

Ann Elder, whose 11-year-old transgender son, Benjamin, is a straight-A student in the suburban Houston town of Friendswood, said she would homeschool him to avoid “having him humiliated every day in front of his classmates.”

“It would be inhumane to make him go to the girls’ bathroom,” Elder said.

Her son used to start playdates by saying, “Hey guys, I’m a teenage boy, and I’m going to be the captain of the pirate ship.” When he was 6, a child psychiatrist confirmed he was transgender. His personality “just blossomed,” Elder said, after she bought him a new male wardrobe. He changed schools, and the new administration agreed to keep his birth gender secret.

Her son plans to come out as transgender as he gets older. This summer, he will travel to Washington, D.C., with his father to lobby for transgender rights.

“Right now he’s living a sheltered life,” Elder said. “His friends are happy because they think there’s nothing different about him.”

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