A 12-year-old transgender student in Pennsylvania has delivered an impassioned speech about equality to local school officials after a cisgender teen complained about the district's locker room policies.
Seventh-grader Ari Bowman spoke Monday evening at the East Penn School District in a bid to counter what he said was hateful and fearful rhetoric about transgender students using changing room that corresponds with their gender identity.
“The hate that the transgender community has been receiving lately has been terrible. People say things without an open mind and as if we’re not human beings like they are,” he said.
Last month, the East Penn School District made national news when ninth grader Sigourney Coyle told the school board she did not want to use the same changing room as transgender students for religious reasons.
“I am a woman, and I identify as a woman, and you can’t make me change in front of someone who I don’t identify with, who is physically male,” Coyle said.
“Gym requires us to participate to pass high school and if I don’t change I am not allowed to participate,” she said. “So my options are to let myself be discriminated against or fail gym for not participating and not pass through high school, which would jeopardize my future.”
The Christian teen urged her school not to follow the Obama administration’s guidelines, issued in May, allowing trans students to use the restroom or changing room that corresponds with their gender identity. A federal judge temporarily blocked the guidelines last month after 11 states brought a lawsuit, objecting to the policies.
Bowman, who said he has been using male pronouns since fifth grade but came out as transgender over the summer, told school district officials the fears were being overblown.
“I change in the boy’s locker room and I have seen zero genitalia, which is kind of why I do not understand that people make the assumption that a transgender student would accidentally reveal herself in the locker room,” he said.
Bowman said that in first grade, prior to his transition, girls wouldn’t let him use their bathroom even though it corresponded with his biological gender. “They didn’t care that I had female genitalia. They cared that I looked masculine and was male at heart,” he said.
Bowman’s mother, Alisa, uploaded video to Facebook of her son’s speech on Tuesday that has since been viewed thousands of times.
“I was sobbing along the way,” Alisa told BuzzFeed News. “I sort of knew what his speech was going to be, but some different things came out of him that night that totally blew me away.”
In addition to Bowman and his mom, some 15 others, including a local Presbyterian reverend, spoke at the meeting in support of trans students.
“It was more than I ever could have dreamed,” Alisa Bowman said. “People just took it upon themselves to stand up for the trans community and vulnerable students in general. Up until Monday night I felt on the defensive and scared. Then I felt, ‘Wow, there’s so much support out there.’”
According to the Morning Call newspaper, Superintendent Michael Schilder delivered a written statement to the meeting in which he pledged "to uphold the rights of transgender students and to support them in whatever way possible in their often difficult personal journey."
Ari Bowman told BuzzFeed News he felt he had “the obligation” to speak because he “didn’t want people to go around thinking transgender people are predators.”
“I hope you understand what being transgender means,” Bowman told the school board. “It doesn’t make me any less or any more. It makes me me. And no one can change that.”