DoD School to Let Transgender Student Use Girls' Restroom

Beginning Oct. 24, this transgender daughter of a U.S. airman at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, will be allowed to use the girls' bathroom, after being denied access to it. (Photo courtesy family)
Beginning Oct. 24, this transgender daughter of a U.S. airman at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, will be allowed to use the girls' bathroom, after being denied access to it. (Photo courtesy family)

Beginning Monday, the transgender daughter of a U.S. airman at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, will be allowed to use the girls' bathroom after being denied access to the facility, according to the Department of Defense.

The principal of Ramstein Intermediate School, one of four schools located on the base, had planned on allowing the 11-year-old fifth-grader (who goes by the name Blue) to start using the restroom the week of Oct. 10.

But that decision was overruled by Dr. Elizabeth Dunham, the superintendent of schools Europe East region of the Department of Defense Education Activity, for reasons that remain unclear. After news of the case broke on Friday, the activity apparently reversed Dunham's ruling.

"Students who are transgender currently attend DoDEA schools, just as they attend other school districts across the nation," a spokesperson for the activity told NBC OUT, which broke the news. "It is the Department of Defense's position, consistent with the U.S. Attorney General's opinion, that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination."

The case surfaced after the student's mother, Jess Girven, shared the story on Facebook.

In a telephone interview with Military.com, Girven said her child is the first openly transgender child at the school. Her child began the transition in August, she said. The following month, Girven said she was told the school would take appropriate measures to accommodate her.

Instead, her child was allowed access to the boys' bathroom or the school's newly incorporated gender-neutral, single-stall bathrooms, Girven said. Both options were limiting in part because of location, she said.

"Her classroom is on the third floor. For Blue to go to the restroom, she had to go down three flights of stairs, across the courtyard and into another building … or cut through the library," Girven said. "And we contacted the superintendent just to find out why."

Dunham deliberated the issue for about a week and told Blue’s mother that the department wouldn't change the child's options, Girven said.

Spokespersons for the activity in Washington and Europe didn't immediately respond to a Military.com request for comment.

Girven said she went to Ramstein's Inspector General office, which informed her it didn't have jurisdiction. Her husband went to his commander for advice. But the family quickly realized the decision rested with the activity.

"We tried to go through the appropriate channels but, you know, the military and transgender is very, very new," she said.

After posting her frustrations on Facebook, Girven said she was contacted by dozens of media outlets and organizations supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military families, such as the Human Rights Campaign and SPART*A. Another, the American Military Partner Association, released a statement Thursday.

"This superintendent's decision to violate the civil rights of this transgender student is alarming," AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in the statement. "All students, regardless of their gender identity, deserve to be able to go to school in an environment free from discrimination and harassment.

“The Department of Defense school system is currently observing October as National Bullying Prevention Month, yet this superintendent has unacceptably chosen to single out and discriminate against a student because of her gender identity."

The Department of Defense Education Activity in its statement noted that the departments of Education and Justice issued guidelines in May "to allow students who are transgender access to restroom facilities and other accommodations consistent with their gender identity." While the guidelines have been legally challenged, the department "is not precluded from following the guidelines and granting accommodations requested by parents and students," it stated.

In addition, Todd Weiler, the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, "will engage and reaffirm the guidance with schools and other facilities that provide services to school aged children," according to the statement.

One of a handful of transgender students in the district, her child "is pretty excited" about the decision, Girven said. "She really, really wants to help all the other transgender kids," who face a higher risk of suicide. "She's heard stories from other transgender kids who don't have as a supportive family as she has.”

In an email to Military.com, Girven wrote, "We are over the moon today to hear that transgender kids at DoD schools around the world get to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity!"

Girven said she and her family met on Friday with activity officials to offer insights on how to better work with kids who are transitioning and perhaps to ignite future policy change. She said this could open the door to additional community conversations with other parents and children at the school.

After living at Ramstein for seven years, the family may move in 2017 depending on the husband's next assignment. The advocacy groups that have offered support promised to stick with her child no matter where she goes next, Girven said.

"We're limited to a few number of bases because of my husband's job," Girven said. "Some of these groups have offered to step in and help in any way they can to maybe get us up to, say, Fort Meade, because Maryland has really strong transgender protection laws, and quite a few transgender clinics."

Her child is already wearing dresses and trying on makeup. Her mom said the next step is to start her "as soon as humanly possible" on puberty blockers and female hormones.

"Blue's been saying ever since she was three years old, 'I'm going to grow up to be a girl,' " Girven said. "Just like kids say, 'When I grow up I'm going to be the president or a fireman. I'm going to be a girl.' And my child is so happy."

--Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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