Back-to-school season should be a fun and exciting time for students. Seeing old friends, making new ones, and getting to enjoy a new classroom and teacher. And while Matthew Myers, a junior at Marion Technical Institute in Florida, does enjoy these aspects of going back to school, he bears an additional weight, a burden many of his peers are not facing this fall: He is transgender, and nationwide, opponents of LGBT equality have made it their vendetta to roll back important protections for transgender people, particularly transgender youth.
Matthew came out as transgender his sophomore year, and his family was incredibly supportive. He revealed the news with his school as well, telling the administration that he is a boy and wants to wear the uniform that other boys wear. In sharing his authentic self, Matthew has become confident, self-assured, more social, and is able to live as the person he has long known himself to be.
In August of this year, Matthew started his junior year of high school at the school’s culinary program. He loves to cook and is excited to graduate and one day open a bakery in Colorado.
But while his school has been very supportive, the reality is that for the next year of school and possibly until graduation, Matthew can only use one restroom on campus, a restroom specifically designated for him because he is transgender. Unlike his peers who have multiple options for restroom locations, Matthew has to map out his day according to the location of the restroom he is allowed to use.
“Mom, I told everyone at school to call me Matt, because I am a boy.”– Matt Myers
Matthew is like many 18-year-old boys; he enjoys playing video games, hanging out with friends, eating sushi, going to church with his family, and he has a part-time job working at his parents’ business helping them with cabinetry manufacturing.
Matthew’s peers, teachers, and administrative staff fully support him – in fact, Matthew had to order his uniform prior to the start of the school year, and when he arrived he introduced himself as Matthew and let Mr. Fritch, one of the administrators at the school, know that his records would show his name as Madison. Mr. Fritch did not bat an eye and welcomed Matthew and his mother Beth with open arms.
This hospitality continued on orientation day as Matthew met with his teachers and they all addressed him as Matthew. Mr. Fitch had taken the time to have conversations with his peers and the other administrative staff by letting them know Matthew would be joining them this fall and to address him as they would any other male student. Matthew and his mom were elated and relieved. This kind gesture meant that Matthew would not be outed by the entire school, a fear many transgender youth face.
“Hi, I’m Matt. Your books show my name as Madison and female, but please call me Matt and use male pronouns.”– Matt Myers
While Matthew’s peers and teachers are supportive of who he is and have provided a restroom for him, there are no statewide protections for transgender youth in Florida – meaning that students’ protections are left to the discretion of teachers. Matthew’s school does not have to let him use the boy’s restroom – which is why he is forced to use just the one restroom in the school, a single-stall room. This policy singles Matthew out, making his experience separate from that of his classmates. Singling out any student for different treatment from their peers is the very definition of discrimination – no one should be restricted to using a single-user restroom as their only option.
Matthew’s experience is similar to many other students across the United States, who have seen their lives under attack in recent months. Most recently, a conservative federal judge with a history of ruling against the LGBT community issued a decision that shamefully attempts to roll back protections for transgender kids.
Advocates in Florida, including Equality Florida, are working hard to ensure all youth including transgender youth are protected in school and have the freedom to use the restroom that matches who they are. A student’s back-to-school experience and time spent on campus should not include the fear of being outed because one is forced to use the restroom that does not match who they are. Matthew and all other transgender youth should feel comfortable and safe in the place they spend most of their time.
Many transgender youth have not experienced the kindness that Matthew’s school has shown him. Providing these protections would allow all students to experience school the same way and would eliminate any fear of unequal treatment, allowing students to simply be themselves.
Editors’ Note: This post was written by Jennie Reiken, an apprentice in the LGBT University program. A version of Matthew’s story is also published on the website of our friends at Equality Florida. Learn more about LGBT University here.