I first met DW Trantham when I went to Boise in January to testify as a part of the hearing on whether or not the Add the Words bill should move forward. She immediately struck me as confident, capable and wildly courageous. While the bill failed to make it out of committee, DW and her father’s testimonies left a lasting impression on me and many others who were gathered there that day. So when I heard that once again she and her father, Tim Trantham, were standing up and fighting for her rights and the rights of other transgender students, I wasn’t surprised in the least.
DW Trantham is a 13-year-old transgender girl who goes to South Junior High in Boise, Idaho. She says that last year she went to school not telling any other students that she was trans, but decided this year she would be open about it and actively and visibly campaign for her rights as a trans student, telling me, “you’re never gonna solve the problem unless you do something, you can’t just talk about it.”
This visibility ran into what seemed like a huge obstacle last week when another student’s parents found out about her and very publicly took their daughter out of school rather than have her go to a school where she might share a bathroom with a trans girl. DW told me that she didn’t know about this issue until after the other parents had already gone onto the local news to talk about it. “I learned about it at the meeting,” DW said. “I had no idea that somebody was pushing for it… We got there he pulled out the computer and immediately just jumped right into the situation “Hey um, did you see the news last night?”
Her dad told me that he was equally surprised: “The first I heard of it was in the principal’s office, I guess they had a heads up about it, they knew about the news story. I didn’t know about it until I was in the principal’s office and he played that television story for me. I was pretty much caught off guard.”
However, despite being surprised by these specific actions, Tim had already been prepared to fight for DW’s right to use the correct bathroom. He initially thought that the meeting was going to end up in a fight against the school and was pleasantly surprised when the principal actually told the two of them that they were upholding DW’s rights. “About a week prior, the school board had decided to take the ACLU’s advice and allow transgender children nationwide to use the bathroom of their choice,” he explained. “I actually thought going into that meeting that I would walk out with DW no longer enrolled there and end up in the middle of a Title IX fight and I told them that. I said I was totally prepared to get my way that way. And [the meeting] was the total opposite of what I thought it was going to be.”
Tim Trantham wasn’t always the amazingly supportive father he is today. He says that it actually took him quite some time to come around and learn to not only accept his daughter as being transgender, but to be with her every step of the way fighting right along beside her. “I say this a lot,” he recalls. “But I just wasn’t on board with this at first. I thought maybe I wasn’t throwing enough baseballs, you know what I mean. It was like she never played with any of the boy toys that I bought her. She would take boy toys and trade them for Barbie dolls.”
He says that the main reason he learned to support her was simply by gaining knowledge on the subject. Once he really understood what it meant to have a transgender daughter, he felt he had no choice but to have her back, and hopes that other parents of transgender children will do the same.
“Knowledge is power. Get on the internet. Don’t be scared to type the word “transgender” in that little box,” He advises. “Look around, join some groups. Parents of Transgender Children is an awesome group and there are many others out there. Don’t be scared is what I guess I would say. Get some knowledge and remember your kids. When they were born, how you felt in your heart, how could you not want to keep that going for as long as you’re alive? You’ve got to support your kids no matter what you do, you know what I mean? If DW was wanting to be a scientist, I would be spending all my money buying beakers. But as it is, I spend it on make up.”
Based on this incident, however, it’s clear that not every parent is as educated on this issue as Mr. Trantham is. The other parents, Pauline Adams and Jacob Smith, said that they pulled their daughter out because of “safety” and “privacy” concerns and asked, “we would not allow our child to share a restroom simultaneously at home, so why would we be okay with it at school?” They say that at the least they should have been notified that there was a transgender student at the school and that this could lead to trans boys using the boy’s bathroom where “there is not as much privacy” or transgender students using locker rooms.
DW says that no one has anything to worry about. She just wants to be able to use the bathroom like every other girl her age, and like she’s been doing. “It was so shocking that parents felt so scared because of me being in the girl’s bathroom,” she told me. “I mean, what do you think am I going to do? Trans people are worried about their bathroom privacy more than anyone. We are the ones at risk of being raped or sexually assaulted. It’s happened to me before. I’m not hurting anyone. I am just simply using and expressing my rights as a human being using the girl’s restroom.”
Both DW and her father were extremely relieved and glad to hear that the school was standing behind them on this issue. They told Tim that they were going to continue to let DW use the correct bathroom. Principal Jeff Hultberg said that “from my perspective, the students have not viewed this as a big issue. A lot of students went to elementary school with her. They have been aware of the issue for several years.” In a statement they released to clarify their stance on the issue, the school district said “The US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has instructed schools nationwide that sex-discrimination prohibitions in federal law include protections for gender identity. As such, under federal civil rights law, the district is required to provide access to public facilities consistent with the student’s gender identity.”
Across the continent, the “bathroom issue” has been one of the biggest topics of contention when it comes to transgender rights in the past several months. At the Add the Words hearing in Boise, most of the people testifying against the bill cited access to bathrooms as one of the main reasons why. There’s currently a movement across Canada and parts of the US where transgender men and women are going into the bathroom that doesn’t match their true gender and taking selfies, posting them to social media in order to show how ridiculous anti-trans bathroom laws are. Many local non-discrimination ordinances get held up because people are worried that it will lead to chaos in the bathrooms. “Men dressing up as women in order to sneak into the bathrooms,” as opponents put it.
It might go without saying, but these arguments don’t hold any water. Trans women are not men, so the issue of men going into women’s bathrooms has nothing to do with them. Under a law that protects the rights of trans people to use the bathrooms that match their gender, a man sneaking into the women’s bathroom would still be very much illegal. Additionally, across the United States, cities and states that have laws on the books confirming trans women’s rights to use women’s bathrooms have reported absolutely no cases of sexual assault by trans women after the passage of these laws.
This issue has been a big one in other schools as well. In 2013, the family of transgender girl Coy Mathis successfully won the right for their daughter to use the girls’ bathroom at her school in Colorado. Similarly, Nicole Maines won a lawsuit against her school just last year where they school district had to pay her and her family $75,000 because she was forced to use a unisex bathroom instead of the girl’s room at her school. Adams and Smith suggested a similar compromise. DW points out that this isn’t actually a good solution at all and that it ultimately amounts to segregation.
“It’s not okay,” DW says. “A unisex bathroom is just segregation. It’s completely away from the other girls. It’s challenging my personhood and it’s challenging my rights as an American, and I have every right to use the girls’ bathroom… I just don’t feel right about a unisex or genderless bathroom. I have a gender, I am a girl, you know? It’s important to me as a girl to be able to use the girl’s bathroom. Otherwise I’m being segregated.”
Even though DW had the backing of the school on the issue, she still left the situation feeling shaken. That is, until she arrived at school the next morning. “I walked into my school and it was nine o’clock and I was greeted by hundreds of students,” she remembers. “They all had their hands out to me, ready to give me a hug. They were all wearing stickers, that said, “I Am DW.” They were handing out sheets to sign that they don’t mind that a transgender girl was sharing a bathroom with them… All these people, people that I didn’t even know, people were coming up to me saying, you’re beautiful, stay strong, all throughout the day. There were even lots of teachers that were wearing the “I Am DW” stickers.:
These students, many whom she had thought weren’t her friends and didn’t accept her were now standing firmly in solidarity with her. Students and staff from across the school were letting her know that they weren’t just accepting her, they were fighting alongside her. “It was so amazing,” she recalls. “This isn’t even doing it justice. This was so amazing. I just felt endless support of love and thankful for the hugs and I felt sorry for the uneducated parents that took their children out of school because of it.”
Both DW and Tim Trantham hope that they can spread their message of acceptance and rights for trans children across the country, and they both feel that knowledge is the key to that. DW advises parents to “do their research and really look into what it means to be transgender” and “get educated and know that that’s not what I’m in [the bathroom] for.” She says that she does what she does “to put a human face behind the word “transgender”” because “we’re not freaks, we’re not perverts, we’re just people. You know?” DW also points out that she’s worried about her own safety in the bathroom most of all. “We are human too,” she told me. “We are not going in there for the wrong reasons.”
Tim also says that he hopes DW’s situation will inspire other trans students and let them know that it’s possible that not only the school administration, but also the student body will stand with them:
“I hope that this story gets out far enough that other transgender kids in other schools in our nation can see what can happen if you’re like DW and stand up for yourself and ask your school for these rights,” Tim told me. “It involves Title IX and our national government has already got these protections in place. A lot of people don’t realize where the ACLU stands on that and what they recommend to school districts when asked. You either do it (allow trans students to use the correct bathroom) or you’re going to be sued.”
In a time when most news stories about trans people involve violence or discrimination, DW’s triumph at school is a breath of fresh air. It shows us the value of tenacity, courage and knowledge in the fight for transgender rights. It shows us that even in a traditionally conservative Western state like Idaho, a trans girl can be embraced by her community. Most importantly, it shows us that as long as there are brave and talented young people like DW Trantham fighting for trans rights, the fight for equality is going to continue to move forward.