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Parents of a 'gender expansive' kindergartner are suing the school

Parents of a "gender expansive" child in New York are suing the Department of Education, claiming their child was exposed to a hostile environment in a public school. (Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

Danielle Super and Michael Davis are suing the Department of Education, claiming their son Leo was subjected to a hostile environment at his school due to the ambiguity of his gender expression.

The Facts

The following information is from a report in the New York Times.

Leo entered kindergarten last year at Public School 107 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents say he has gravitated toward things associated with girls since he was a baby, such as the color pink, dolls, and dresses.

His parents don't consider him transgender, however. They describe him as "gender expansive," and say that he has been able to live peacefully that way until he started public school.

Super and Davis informed the school of Leo's gender expression before the academic year began, but Leo was met with confusion from his classmates about whether he was a boy or a girl, and which bathroom he was supposed to use. This, according to the lawsuit, caused Leo to hate school.

Later in the semester, the parent of one of Leo's classmates overheard Leo making a crude joke referencing his genitalia. The parent reported the comment to a teacher, and Leo's parents were called in for a meeting.

The school's principal allegedly told the parents the comment indicated Leo was disturbed and needed therapy. Days later, the principal reported Super to the state for potential child abuse, and authorities visited their household one night as a result.

Months later, the abuse accusation was determined to be unfounded after an investigation.

Leo has left P.S. 107 and will soon begin at a private school.

Perspective

This sounds like an extremely difficult situation for public school employees to handle, and an impossible situation for kindergarten children to process. If there was any expectation that five-year-old kids were going to grasp the concept of "gender expansiveness," then all parties involved were deluded.

I feel sympathy for Leo, a young child who is struggling with his identity, and who likely entered school to be faced with blunt but innocent questions from other children that he does not have the knowledge or experience to answer. For a child who has been taught not to live according commonly accepted gender structures, simply being asked "Are you a boy or a girl?" could be a source of great anxiety.

Super, Leo's mother, said "As a parent, my job is not to make strangers comfortable. My job is to protect my child, and to make my child comfortable so he can flourish."

I understand that sentiment, but it also seems somewhat narrow-minded. Mutual comfort for attendees of a public school is a two-way street, and if you're going to send your child into that situation, you have to be aware that making strangers comfortable is a crucial part of making your child comfortable.

The public school experience is one of children from diverse backgrounds learning and growing together, sometimes painfully and uncomfortably. I hope that in Leo's parents' passion for pursuing his acceptance, and in the midst of what will likely be a drawn out legal process, that the children themselves don't become an afterthought.

The smartest and most powerful people in our nation haven't hashed out the issue of transgender people in public spaces, so we shouldn't expect kindergartners to, either. That's not a hostile environment, it's simply childhood. And we should pray for our children as they face issues we could never have anticipated when we were children ourselves.

One last thing…
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