More than 2,300 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling on the McIntosh County Public School system to allow a seven-year-old transgender child the right to use the boys' restroom.
The petition was created by Tommy Theollyn, a 28-year-old transgender man from Townsend, Ga., after he said he was told by McIntosh County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. William Hunter that his child, D., would not be allowed to use the boy's restroom at Todd Grant Elementary School.
"My child is transgender; put simply this means he looks like and identifies as a boy, but has the body parts assigned to girls," Theollyn states in the petition. "Forcing him to use a bathroom that does not match his presentation effectively discloses his status as a transgender child and thus endangers him."
Parent wants rural Ga. school to let trans elementary student use boys’ restroom
Theollyn is D.’s biological mother, but he transitioned when his child was just a year old. Theollyn said in an interview that the child, who is in second grade, began living as a boy last year.
Theollyn said he met with his child’s teacher before the school year to discuss the situation. Theollyn said the teacher was accommodating and told him that D. would be given a hall pass to use whichever restroom he wanted when other children were not present.
The first day of the 2011/12 school year in McIntosh County was Tuesday, Aug. 23. On the first day, Theollyn said his mother walked D. to his classroom and was informed that D. would have to use the girl’s restroom.
“We thought there wasn’t an issue, but when he went to the first day of school he was told they had to use the girl’s restroom,” Theollyn said.
An impromptu meeting with the school principal and the district’s superintendent followed.
“It got nasty quickly,” Theollyn said. “It turned into threats almost immediately.”
Theollyn said that Hunter threatened to call child services during the meeting. The next day, Theollyn pulled his son from the school over concerns for his safety.
“We’re in a very traditionally Southern county,” Theollyn said. “The threat of violence is real. We’re feeling it. We’re scared. But does that mean that you stay silent? Does that mean you don’t challenge it? Fear is not a good reason to decide to do something.”
Calls to Dr. Hunter and other district officials have not been returned.
A transgender child
Theollyn says that his son began expressing his own gender identity as early as age 18 months.
“The first time he told me he was a boy he was about 18 months old,” Theollyn said.
In early 2010, D. began insisting that he be identified as a boy. Theollyn said that D. asked to have his head shaved and began throwing away and hiding his girl’s clothing.
“For a while he was saying he really didn’t care, that he was above all that gender stuff. Then one day he asked us to shave his head. He said, ‘I can’t wear girls clothes. I need to look like a boy.'”
Theollyn said at first, he thought D. was just emulating him. Other people who knew D. also expressed the same feelings.
“That really did not go well in a lot of ways,” Theollyn said. “He was very disappointed by the response.”
D. was home-schooled prior to this year. Theollyn said that his son wanted to go to public school because he wants to be a veterinarian and he wanted to interact with children his age. Theollyn said that D. felt being in home school would hurt his chances of becoming a vet.
“He was so ready,” Theollyn said. “It’s such a disappointment. He’s got a bookbag full of supplies he can’t use. He’s very clearly frustrated and disappointed.”
Theollyn said that he and D. have been working with a doctor.
What’s next for D.?
Theollyn said that he reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this week to discuss the incident. The state chapter forwarded the case to the organization’s main office in New York, according to Theollyn. He said he has not heard back.
Theollyn said he will present members of the McIntosh School board with educational material and a copy of the Change.org petition during a mid-September school board meeting.
“There’s several things I want to discuss,” he said. “I have no idea how that’s going to go.”
In the meantime, D. is back to learning at home.
“I don’t want to give him the message that it’s OK to treat people this way,” Theollyn said. “At the same time, I also know where that leaves us — back at home school.”