18 May 2013

Denying A Wolfe At Red Lion

Last month, people all over the United States were shocked to learn that, in their own country, there are still high schools that hold separate proms for white and black students.  So, students who have spent hundreds of hours with each other in classrooms, played on sports teams (or cheered them on) together, fought, hugged--and, in some cases, dated--could not dance with each other as they were about to graduate.

One such school was in Wilcox County, Georgia.  The state in which I was born (but spent only the first seven months of my life) has, to be sure, been one of the most atavistic when it comes to race relations.  It was one of the last states to repeal Jim Crow laws, and only in Missisippi were more African-Americans lynched between 1892 and 1968.  Still, it's hard to believe that even in such a place, such a frankly barbaric practice as a segregated prom could continue.

That is, until its students dragged out of the 19th Century and into the 21st.  Four girls--two white, two black--took it upon themselves to organize a prom to which all of their classmates were invited.  Roughly equal numbers of students of both races attended, and DJs, photographers and other people came from as far away as New York to volunteer their services.

I mention this story becuase it is, after all, prom season, and another group of people is facing discrimination.

I'm talking about transgender students who aren't allowed to attend in the gender in which they identify.  In one of the most egregious examples of this, Mark Shue, the principal of Red Lion (PA) Area  High School, changed Isaak Wolfe's bid to become the prom king to one to become the prom queen.  He did this without notifying Isaak.  Moreover, he said that Wolfe's female name would be read at graduation.

Shue's rationale for his actions is that Isaak Wolfe's name has not yet become legal.  He is working on that change, and he has been living by his male name--and in his male gender--for some time.  I don't know anything about Pennsylvania law, but I would think that it may well be possible that Wolfe's name change won't become official until he turns 18.  Still, if Wolfe has been living as a boy, with a boy's name--and that is how his classmates, teachers and family know him--he should be allowed to attend the prom and campaign for a title as the person he is.  As he told reporters, had he known Shue would change his petition, he never would have competed.  "It's humiliating," he said.

I call it bullying.  

I say that as someone who didn't attend her prom, and participate in many other activities and rituals that are normal parts of most people's lives, because I couldn't do so as the person I am.  Not being able to live with such integrity, I came to see rejection, exclusion and pure-and-simple meanness as normal.  You've probably heard songs about how love was for other people.  That is how I felt, and still feel sometimes.  When you are subjected to such treatment throughout your life, you have a more difficult time starting or maintaining relationships, or even believing that they are possible.  In other words, you internalize the bullying and bigotry to which you're subjected.

Principal Shue has already humiliated Isaak Wolfe.  I hope he realizes the error of his way and doesn't contribute to a cycle of alienation and despair that has claimed far too many young people.

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