Dozens of Oak Park High School students walked out of class Tuesday in protest of the Trump administration’s plans to roll back Title IX protections for transgender people.
“They’re trying to take my joy with myself away,” transgender senior Avery Fox told the crowd in North Kansas City. “And they’re trying to take yours away too.”
In 2015, Oak Park crowned its first transgender homecoming queen. The school district recently built gender-neutral bathrooms in several of its schools, and Oak Park has a number of private bathrooms for transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming students to use.
Fox, who identifies as a transgender man, said he’s afraid rights and protections will be removed from Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education.
“It goes without saying: If they’re trying to erase one part of the LGBT community, who’s to say they won’t try to erase us all,” he said.
Tuesday also marked the annual observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors people who were killed because of anti-transgender violence.
Senior Emily Hilderbrand, who helped plan the walkout with Fox, said they were influenced by a New York Times article from October that reported the administration’s intentions to define gender as a condition determined by one’s genitalia at birth.
“We got very angry,” Hilderbrand said. “We felt like that was very much kind of an infringement onto just human rights because everyone deserves to have their identity valid.”
There are currently no statewide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in Missouri, although the ACLU is challenging that in a lawsuit. And the Missouri Supreme Court is considering two cases — one involving a transgender teenager and the other a gay man — that could determine whether the Missouri Human Rights Act applies to discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Fox said he is specifically concerned with the Missouri law that only allows a person to change their gender on their ID if they have medical documents proving they have undergone gender-reassignment surgery.
“Not all of us can afford surgery,” Fox said. “Not all of us have the chance to get it. Not all of us have supportive parents who will let us have that. And some of us just don’t choose to do it. And even if we choose not to have the hormones or not to have the surgery, that doesn’t mean we aren’t the gender we say we are.”
Hilderbrand said the administration was receptive to the walkout when students first approached them with the idea last month.
Fox also noted the support from school administrators and teachers.
“The support that comes from them really does make it possible to be yourself,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about people seeing you as different.”
Assistant Principal Casey Vokolek said the administration tries its best to support its students. He said that, as a school, it’s important that students learn how to be vocal about their beliefs.
“Being able to express your opinions in a healthy, safe way — have your voice be heard — is an important life skill,” he said.
Celisa Calacal is a news intern with KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at @celisa_mia.