ACLU of Oregon note: In May, a student at Sutherlin High School student filed a lawsuit against the Sutherlin School District, its superintendent, the high school principal, and others, claiming transgender students shouldn't be allowed to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity because it made him "feel very uncomfortable." The lawsuit singled out our client, 15-year-old Sutherlin High School student Tyler, by name, while consistently and intentionally misgendering him.
I was called out of my room by my mother last month – she said it was urgent and I needed to come here immediately.
She handed me her phone with a news article on it. Something about “Sutherlin student files lawsuit over transgender bathroom use.” I knew immediately from the headline that it was about me. And then two paragraphs down, there it was for everybody to read: My name.
I personally was named in a lawsuit because I used the boys bathroom at my school in January and another boy felt “uncomfortable” because of it.
I know my rights, and that’s why I didn’t back down when I was called into the vice principal’s office last winter and that’s why I didn’t back down when the lawsuit was filed.
It was during my fourth period class when I went to the bathroom on January 31. When I walked into the boys room I remember seeing someone else in there, but I didn’t pay attention to who it was because, really, I didn’t care. I went in, locked the stall, and then heard people talking.
“Isn’t it weird…” I could hear someone saying. I don’t remember exactly what was said after that, but I knew it was about me, because they kept saying “she.” A lot of people who don’t agree with how I live my life reference me as “she” and use my dead name.
I didn’t realize at the time that this bathroom visit was going to end up in court. I didn’t even know anybody cared until I was called out of class later that day and sent to the vice principal’s office.
“11:06 you went into boys bathroom,” he said while pulling up security camera footage and telling me he got a complaint from a student about me being there. The same student who’s suing. “Why didn’t you go to the girls bathroom?”
Because I’m a guy. I’ve been this way my whole life.
I’m only 15 but I knew from a very young age what was comfortable for me and what wasn’t. I always leaned towards the male, masculine aspect of things. I participated in sports growing up that are particularly seen as masculine – I played on the baseball team instead of the softball team, I played football and other high-contact sports.
I just connect more with how my male peers do things. Having short hair, acting a certain way, stuff like that. I would talk to my female peers and couldn’t really relate with what they were going through or how they dealt with things. It was always conflicting to be told that because I was born in a certain category I should do this a certain way or that a certain way, when everything I’ve been doing has been more comfortable for me.
I stumbled on the LGBT community when I was in fourth grade. I understood that some people had certain aspects of their lives that are viewed as different, but that’s just how they felt comfortable living their lives. It rang a bell for me, personally, because that’s how I had been seeing things as well. I read the definitions of “lesbian,” “gay,” and “bisexual.” And then I found “transgender” and what that meant.
I didn’t fully understand it at first, but I connected with it after doing countless hours of research. What is this? Why do I feel this way? It clicked that this is exactly what’s going on with me!
But I didn’t realize my identity would be an issue for other people.
When I was still seen as female, people stood up for me. But after I came out, things just switched. I got bullied a lot and told that I was weird, or different, for acting the way I was acting. They claimed that because I was born a certain way I couldn’t be acting the way I was acting. They called me names – names that I’m not going to repeat here. Feeling unaccepted and like an outcast can really put a toll on you emotionally. I became more secluded, more isolated.
This past year, my sophomore year at Sutherlin, was rough. A group of students found it hilarious to use my dead name and wrong pronouns to get a rise out of me. It just turns into a big laugh fest, seeing how far they can push me, the weird kid.
The first adult I came out to was my therapist, about two years ago. I just started crying when I talked about how I felt inside; she encouraged me to tell my mom, and I did the ride home. My mom said “haven’t you always” identified as male? She has always been supportive, but her reaction was such a relief. My family accepting me made this process a lot easier. Had I not been able to change my name and pronouns, and live comfortably at home, I don’t know what would have happened.
This lawsuit – and being personally named in it – really stung. I was so worried about going back to school while it was dragging on, so learning this week it was dropped was a huge relief. I received a lot of support from advocates since this situation happened, and I’m so thankful for that.
I hope other transgender students in Oregon know that they are not alone. I hope this lawsuit getting dropped means real progress and acceptance. I hope that other students like me feel empowered enough to speak up about the issues in their district, whether it be about privacy, or bullying, or anything in between.
And I hope that this will help other students understand that we all face problems at school and wherever we go, just a smile in the hallway can make someone's day.