Youth Are Often the Best Teachers About Who Transgender People Are
For over 20 years, I have enjoyed the great gift of being able to do work about which I feel passionately. It has been an extraordinary ride and one which has come with the chance to break new legal ground in securing protections for queer people. GLAD’s focus is on impact litigation, cases that raise novel legal questions and in which a positive outcome impacts the community broadly.
My life has been enriched by my connection to GLAD plaintiffs. Among my most memorable experiences is the time I drove a getaway car for a badass teenage client who pulled a switch on a reporter – with the assist of a crafty band of middle schoolers.
That also means that our cases involve real people with real lives. My life has been enriched by my connection to GLAD plaintiffs. Among my most memorable experiences is the time I drove a getaway car for a badass teenage client who pulled a switch on a reporter – with the assist of a crafty band of middle schoolers.
The client was Pat Doe and the case was Doe v. Yunits. “Doe” was Katrina (Trina) Harrington, a transgender girl who was disciplined by her Massachusetts school’s principal for adorning her hair with butterfly barrettes, or wearing pink jeans, among other perceived transgressions. She was repeatedly sent home, and finally became so discouraged that she stopped going to school.
Trina was raised by grandparents, staunch advocates for a granddaughter whom they did not understand entirely but loved and adored nonetheless. Despite the harassment she suffered at school, Trina exuded incredibly positive energy – no doubt because of her family’s support, but also because of the incredible bonds she maintained with her friends and classmates despite the school administration’s persistent targeting of her.
Unfortunately, I have found Trina’s experience to be typical of cases involving transgender youth at school. Too often, the problems come from the adults in administration, not from other students. Trina wasn’t facing harassment or ostracism from peers, who did not find her attire “distracting” from their education as the administration asserted. She faced discrimination and hostile treatment from teachers and administrators who made her life difficult just for being the transgender adolescent that she was.
Trina spoke frequently to me about how incredible her friends were and how they helped buoy her spirits even while the administration was making her school life hell. One day I got to see Trina’s fabulous friends in action. I was picking up Trina after school for a court appearance and grew concerned when I pulled up and saw a television news truck parked outside. Trina had not wanted to be made more vulnerable by having her face in the media. And I wasn’t sure how she was going to avoid just that with a reporter standing there waiting for school to let out.
Shortly after the dismissal bell rang, a gaggle of kids started heading to my car. Trina appeared to be in the center of them with hoodie pulled overhead. Cameras and the reporter filmed and followed as she jumped into my car. But as we pulled away and the passenger next to me pulled down the hood, I realized it was not Trina. It was a classmate who had thrown a decoy to protect her friend.
I am reminded of the pluckiness, creativity, and sense of adventure that both Trina and her friends embodied in reflecting on the recent Yes On 3 victory in Massachusetts. The resilience, courage, and charisma transgender youth displayed during that campaign echoed what I so admired in Trina years ago.
The student excitedly whispered – “Trina’s around the corner; you can pick her up there!” We both laughed with delight imagining the surprise of the news anchor when he realized what these kids had pulled off.
Ultimately GLAD won this case, which was the first reported decision ever in a case brought by a transgender student. The court ruled that a middle school may not prohibit a transgender student from expressing her female gender identity. Disciplining a transgender student for wearing girls’ clothing deprives her of a right to an equal educational opportunity and targets her unfairly based on her transgender status.
It was an important result that established precedent for many transgender young people in Massachusetts and across the country who followed in Trina’s footsteps, bravely coming out with grace and dignity in schools and beyond. I am reminded of the pluckiness, creativity, and sense of adventure that both Trina and her friends embodied in reflecting on the recent Yes On 3 victory in Massachusetts. The resilience, courage, and charisma transgender youth displayed during that campaign echoed what I so admired in Trina years ago.
Youth are often the best teachers – as Trina was – about who transgender people are.
Jennifer Levi and Trina Harrington talk about Trina’s fight to be allowed to be herself at school.