As news of President Trump’s ban on transgender service members dominated national headlines in recent weeks, it was easy to miss the local victory for equality here in Pennsylvania: A school district at the center of a key legal fight will now allow transgender students to use the restrooms that match who they are – meaning that transgender boys will be able to use the boys’ room and transgender girls will be able to use the girls’ room. The lawsuit was brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of transgender high schoolers in the Pine-Richland school district who had been discriminated against by their school in southern Pittsburgh.
For me and my family, this news brought tears to our eyes. We’re lifelong Pennsylvanians, and finally, a judge in our home state is standing on the side of fairness and equality under the law for transgender youth. Finally, in at least one part of the state, transgender students will no longer be reduced to the restroom they use, and they can return to focusing on their education while at school.
The question of fairness and equality for transgender people is close to my heart because my son Aidan is transgender. Aidan was born female, but he expressed from a young age that inside, he is a boy; and several years ago he transitioned to live as the boy he knows himself to be. He just graduated from Boyertown High School and is thriving in every aspect of his life. And today marks a key hearing in a case out of his own school district regarding equal access for transgender students to restrooms and facilities.
I have been enormously grateful for the amount of support we’ve received on our journey. Last year in high school, Aidan largely avoided the bullying and unfair treatment that so many other transgender kids face. But when an anti-LGBTQ group filed the current divisive lawsuit against his high school, claiming that the school district’s respect for transgender students harmed non-transgender students, Aidan courageously stepped up and shared his story with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which is defending transgender students in the district. Aidan testified at a previous hearing in the case, and my heart swelled with admiration as he made his personal life public on behalf of his peers.
We should all be working toward ensuring all students can live the best life possible – and for Aidan, that means allowing him to be who he truly is.
The judge in the Pine-Richland case first ruled in favor of the transgender students just a few months ago with a powerful message, writing, “The Plaintiffs appear to the Court to be young people seeking to do what young people try to do every day – go to school, obtain an education, and interact as equals with their peers.” They should not be impeded from something so basic as using the restroom, the judge wrote. As of last week, transgender students in Pine-Richland School District are guaranteed equal treatment. But that’s not the case everywhere in Pennsylvania.
I don’t want any transgender student to face discrimination at school, where they should be safest. I don’t want children to be blocked from something as simple and mundane as using the restroom. I don’t want anyone to worry about being rejected or facing unfair treatment because of who they are. Parents of transgender children just want what all parents want for their child – for them to be able to go school, get a good education, make friends, and be happy.
I’m glad that the students at Pine-Richland School District stood up against anti-transgender discrimination, and I’m proud that my son Aidan is doing so, too. Although he’s now a graduate, we’ll be paying close attention to see if Boyertown does the right thing, too. I hope that soon, we’re long past the question of allowing transgender people fair access to the restroom. I hope that soon, decision-makers across Pennsylvania come together, take a stand, and pass fully inclusive non-discrimination protections so that all Pennsylvanians, including Aidan, can live freely and safely.
Melissa DeStefano is the mother of a transgender son and lives with her family in the Boyertown School District, which is currently involved in a case involving equal treatment for transgender students.