As the chatter about Houston’s failed Equal Rights Ordinance starts to quiet down, the greater conversation about how we treat transgender people in society is not going anywhere.
All too often, for example, we hear stories about transgender children being mistreated, misgendered, or harassed by adults who get away with it because of unsupportive school systems or broken policies. In Katy, Texas this week, the story is a little different: two day care workers were reprimanded because they refused to call a six-year-old transgender child by his preferred name, as his parents requested.
Now, the employees are taking legal action.
One of them, Madeline Kirksey, is filing a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The other, Akesha Wyatt, has chimed in to say she doesn’t think her termination was fair. Their attorney, Andy Taylor, who famously helped to repeal HERO, says they were fired for their beliefs.
Attorney Andy Taylor pointed to Kirksey’s protected class as a black female over 40 who holds religious convictions. “All of those rights were not vindicated but destroyed,” Taylor said.
Taylor maintained the child’s gender identity wasn’t set in stone. He said the child continued to use the girls’ bathroom. The 6-year-old also played football with the boys and, when hit hard, cried and said, “I’m really not a little boy.”
Taylor likened the imposition of such a decision over gender on a child to “child abuse.” At such a young age, he said, kids haven’t even decided what ice cream or cereal they prefer.
The child happens to have same-sex parents, so to compare letting a kid explore their gender with child abuse is particularly loaded. Kirksey also said she was defending other students:
“I just felt like I had to stand up to protect the 6 year olds,” said Madeline Kirksey, an employee with the Children’s Lighthouse Learning Center on Clay Road in Katy.
(From what?! Their trans friend?)
“I have nothing against anyone else. I just think we all have a right,” Kirksey said. “We should be able to stand up for our rights without being terminated for it.”
Disrespecting and demeaning a child is not your right. You can believe whatever you want to believe on your own time, but respecting and being kind to children is your job. And it’s their right to have a safe place to express themselves.
“I think at her age, she was indecisive,” Kirksey said. “Some days she wanted to be a girl, some days she wanted to be a boy.”
(Uhh… that’s not up to you to decide.)
But Kirksey says besides her religious beliefs and concern that parents hadn’t been notified, she also worried that child would be bullied and classmates would be confused.
“This school handled this in a terrible manner,” Taylor said. “This case, we hope, will serve as a deterrent.”
Kirksey was a manager at the school and says she suggested informing all parents. Instead, school administrators allegedly gave staff a handout to refer to if students have questions.
“I don’t think we should be talking to other people’s children who are under the age of 18 about being transgender,” says Kirksey.
Back to HERO, though — of course, everyone is thinking about how anti-trans propaganda played a role in that measure’s failure in Houston. A spokesperson for the school says that the debate over HERO is part of why this story is blowing up the way it is.
“There’s not a news story here, there’s someone with an agenda, and that’s what’s happened,” said Jamie Izaks, spokesperson for the corporate office Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers.
Izaks told KHOU he thinks the recent controversy surrounding HERO and the spotlight on transgender issues could be fueling the fire of the controversy.
“This is happening in the crosshairs of a pretty heated discussion in Houston that has nothing to do with a school and its students,” Izaks said.
These two employees’ arguments sound like terrible interpretations of what it means to exercise your beliefs. Want to quietly believe a trans boy isn’t who he says he is? Sure. (You probably shouldn’t be in this field, but sure.) But to refuse to validate him, refuse to call him by his name, and to deny his parents’ request for how to treat him is not exercising your beliefs. It’s failing to do your job and hurting a kid in the process. There’s a big difference.