Shannon Axe, 16, said President Barack Obama’s directive, which calls for public schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity, “is awesome.”
The transgender teen told Denver7 that she knew she was transgender at age 3, but didn’t come out to her mom until she was 7-years-old.
She said it was rough when students and staff at her previous school found out.
“People there didn’t understand,” said Shannon’s mom, Karen Axe. “They didn’t allow her to use the restroom she felt most comfortable in. She became isolated. Her grades dropped.”
“It wasn’t safe and it wasn’t accepting,” Shannon said, “so we moved here (to the Boulder Valley School District) and it’s just totally different.”
Axe said students at her new school learn about transgender issues and don’t want to see anyone discriminated against.
“She’s thriving,” Karen said. “Her grades have improved."
When asked how she learned about her daughter’s transgender status, Mrs. Axe said she knew that Shannon was troubled by something at a very young age.
“So I started doing some research,” she said. “One day, I asked Shannon about a fascination with sparkly clothes.”
“Is it because you’re a girl?” she asked.
“She screamed back, ‘Mom, I am a girl,’” Karen said. “It was an explosive moment. The joy I saw in her was something I’d never experienced in my lifetime.”
Karen said she too is grateful to the President for “stepping up the conversation.”
“It’s incredible,” she said. “Because our kids have been denied basic human rights for a very long time. They’ve been told, they couldn’t be themselves. That’s very damaging to kids.”
Karen said she’s aware that it’s a controversial topic.
“There’s a lot of opposition when there’s a lot of misunderstanding,” she said, adding that people can become more understanding when they hear personal stories of struggle.
The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance on Friday to help schools ensure the civil rights of transgender students.
According to a news release from the Department of Education, the guidance also explains schools obligations to:
- Respond promptly and effectively to sex-based harassment of all students, including harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived gender identity, transgender status or gender transition.
- Treat students consistent with their gender identity even if their school records or identification documents indicate a different sex.
- Allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and access sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity.
- Protect students’ privacy related to their transgender status under Title IX and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The directive makes clear that schools can provide additional privacy options to any student for any reason.
There are many people who oppose the president’s action.
State Representative Kim Ransom, R-Douglas County, said “This is a state issue. The federal government shouldn’t be involved.”
Ransom added that Washington shouldn't be dictating to the states how to handle these issues, nor should it threaten to withhold funding from states or districts that don't comply.
Ransom told Denver7 she doesn’t want any child to ever feel left out or hurt, but said school districts should handle each case on an individual basis to prevent abuse.
She said there have been cases where people claim to identify with a certain gender "and they go into a locker room just to look or take pictures."
She said principals will know the students and their parents and can make the decision.
“I’m not willing to put kids in danger because of predators who say they feel a certain way when they’re just trying to take advantage of it,” Ransom said.
Karen Axe said each case is already handled on an individual basis by the students themselves.
She said not every transgender student will feel comfortable using a particular restroom.
“Each single kid is an individual,” she said, “and these guidelines are just that, guidelines. They’re not something where absolutely, this is how we’re going to do it for each child.”
Local school districts say they are already required by state law to accommodate transgender students.
“We feel extremely excited about the President’s stance on this issue, said Eldridge Greer, the director of Denver Public School's Office of Social Emotional Learning. “It really doesn’t change much for us at DPS because we’ve been doing work in support of transgender students for several years.”
It’s the same at Cherry Creek Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools and School District 11 in Colorado Springs.
District 11 spokeswoman Devra Ashby says they’ve been following state law for several years. She said one of the high schools in the district just added another restroom, as an option for transgender students.
Jefferson County Public Schools spokeswoman Diana Wilson told Denver7 they already have a policy in place stating: “Students shall have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity consistently asserted at school. Any student who is transgender and who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason, should be provided access to a single stall restroom, but no student shall be required to use such a restroom.”
Jennifer McPherson, the acting director of the Colorado Division of Civil Rights, said Colorado law was amended in 2008 to include sexual orientation as a protected class.
She said that includes transgender students.
McPherson said the Civil Rights Commission put a plan in place to interpret that law. She said that includes allowing students to use the “segregated by sex” facilities for the gender they identify with.
Shannon Axe said Colorado law has made a difference.
“I’ve been blessed enough to use the bathroom and I want every single transgender teen to be able to feel safe and feel accepted,” she said, “and not worry, when they open the door, that they’re going to be getting hate.”