DENVER, CO -- The issue of being transgender usually pops up with students in high school.
Now a second grade Colorado boy wants to dress as a girl and be addressed with a girl's name.
"As a public school system, our calling is to educate all kids no matter where they come from, what their background is, beliefs, values, it doesn't matter," said Whei Wong, Douglas County Schools spokesperson.
Wong says the staff at one of Douglas County's schools is preparing to accommodate the student and answer questions other students might have.
In order to protect the child as much as possible, his school or other names that might identify the child aren't being revealed.
"I see this as being a very difficult situation to explain to my daughter to explain why someone would not want to be the gender they were born with," said concerned parent "Dave M".
His daughter will be in the same class as the student.
The student had attended this same school in years prior, but had left to go to classes in another district for about two years.
The transgender student will be returning to what is the child's home school.
Dave M. thinks classmates will recognize the change.
"I do think that there's going to be an acknowledgment that 'Why are you in a dress this year when you were in pants last year?'" Dave said.
Wong says teachers are planning to address the student by name instead of using he or she.
The child will not use the regular boys or girls bathroom.
Instead, two unisex bathrooms in the building will be made available.
The school is handing out packets to parents who have questions.
The packets contain information about people who are transgender.
"I think it is unusual," said Wong. "It's something we haven't had discussions about before. It's something that we haven't maybe really had to think about before, but now we will."
Family Therapist Larry Curry hopes the child and the child's parents are seeing a counselor just to be safe.
"I am very concerned because with the guidelines in place, this is a very early age," said Curry. "I don't know too many parents who are equipped to answer that kind of question or deal with it without some other support."
Kim Pearson says the family is getting support.
She is the executive director of a national organization called TransYouth Family Advocates.
The group has been working with the family and Douglas County Schools.
"Initially there was a lot of resistance," said Pearson. "Now, their position is they want this child to be safe in their school."
Pearson says their group is working with an increasing number of families nationwide who have elementary age transgender kids.
"We know that families are more comfortable talking about this," she said. "There was no place for parents to go."
Pearson says children as young as five years old are realizing their true gender identity and her group wants to help parents who may be resisting the acceptance of this.
"Parents are likely to think this it's a phase, but how long do phases last?" said Pearson. "With these kids, it's something that's very consistent."
That thought is not comforting to Dave M., who believes his daughter is not ready to think about the issue of being transgender.
"I don't think a second grader does have the rationale to decide this life-altering choice," said Dave M.
He is also unhappy with the way the school is handling this.
The district has been preparing for the child's return to this school for months.
Dave M. thinks other parents should have been made aware of this sooner.
"I just find it ironic that they can dictate the dress style of children to make sure they don't wear inappropriate clothing, but they have no controls in place for someone wearing transgender clothing," said Dave M.
Curry says parents like Dave M. should not bring the issue up to their students until they ask.
However, he says parents should be ready to answer tough questions from the student's fellow second graders.
"I think reassuring them and letting them know that they'll be all right. Their classmate is all right," said Curry. "This is something their classmate has chosen to do. It is not contagious."
Pearson says the most important thing is to make sure the transgender student does not become the target of bullying or verbal abuse which can lead to suicide.
"These children are at high-risk," said Pearson. "Our number one goal is to keep kids safe."
Wong says mental health professionals will be available if students, staff, or parents have any concerns at all.
She says the district views this as just another diversity issue and hopes everyone can accept and respect the student's wishes.
"Our staff has been briefed and trained to look for concerns," said Wong.
The family of the transgender student did not want to comment.
2/13/2008 6:46:57 PM
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