Amend NHCS School Policy to Protect LGBT+ Students

Amend NHCS School Policy to Protect LGBT+ Students

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Max Stoumen started this petition to NHCS and

My name is Max Arthur Stoumen, I am 16 years old, and I have a passion for women’s fashion. I had been desperate to express myself in this way, and I have struggled for many years trying to gain enough confidence and courage to even consider showing off my interest in public. Luckily, I met a group of extremely supportive friends at Isaac Bear Early College, my high school, and they really enabled me to come out of my shell.

On May 7, 2019, I wore women’s clothes to my school. I did this in the spirit of exploration, and because I felt most comfortable first coming out to my peers. Nothing that I wore was any different than what other girls at my school were or had been wearing. I did not behave differently than I normally would have without my choice of clothing.

Around 11AM, I was escorted to the front office. Because I knew my shorts may have violated dress code (based on their length), I promptly offered to change my pants into jeans; and although they did have such issues, they also had other concerns. Immediately, I was forced to contact a parent and inform him/her of my clothing. The administration then listed everything I was wearing, including my bra, makeup, nails, and straightened hair, to my mother. Furthermore, they interrogated me over why I made the choices I did before telling me that they believed my behavior to be an “academic distraction,” and that unless I could provide adequate justification, my clothing would not be permitted under the same premise that costume is generally not permitted.

At that moment in time, I felt extremely humiliated. In addition, I did not expect to be interrogated about my identity, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to say. Indeed, my long-developed confidence was waning, and ultimately, I cracked. When my principal formally requested me to change my clothes, I did agree, because I no longer trusted the school to necessarily act in my best interest. My mother picked me up from school at around 12PM to discuss my clothing.

In my opinion, this situation is clear evidence of discrimination for three reasons:

  1. The school dress policy regarding length of pants was enacted upon me despite countless instances of the same such dress going unnoticed in females
  2. My dress was considered an academic distraction because I am a male, despite the same dress obviously not being considered a distraction for females
  3. My parents were immediately informed, despite that my behavior was completely harmless and that nothing about my choices was in any way permanent or unsafe

Moreover, plenty of females in my cohort had worn traditionally masculine articles of clothing such as men’s t shirts, but had not been treated in this way.

However, despite my belief that the staff’s decisions were discriminatory (and just plain rude), I acknowledge that they were well in their rights to do so, and many members of the staff were very supportive and respectful. All of their actions, at least in theory, could be considered a direct fulfillment of NHCS policy. And truly, I am not concerned with the way that I was treated, because I know that I am strong. But I cannot go on with my life knowing that someone who is more insecure or simply wishes to explore their identity safely would be subjected to the same treatment.

In this way, I think it is appropriate to address my concerns directly to the NHCS Board of Education, which dictates school policies for New Hanover county. I will request the following changes, each of which corresponding to a right of mine that I believe was obstructed:

  • School policy should make explicitly clear that dress code must be enforced consistently across all students, regardless of gender identity, sex, race, etc.
    • This does not apply to instances in which the student’s dress is overtly sexual or obscene
  • That if any article of clothing is permitted for regular wear by one sex/gender group, then it must in all circumstances be permitted for regular wear by all sex/gender groups
    • This does not apply to instances in which the student’s dress is overtly sexual or obscene
    • By extension, this protects regular wear that is permitted within any sex/gender group from being considered “Costume” or an “academic distraction” regardless of the wearer
  • That school administration has no right to inform parents of information that directly implicates a student’s sexuality or gender identity solely on the basis of said sexuality, gender identity, or the expression thereof unless given explicit permission by the student
    • This does not apply to instances in which the student’s expression is breaking other school policies and/or federal, state, or local law (with the exception of dress code; see the following)
    • If a student breaks dress code but complies with regulations after being informed, and the student’s choice of clothing is considered legal by applicable obscenity laws, then the administration has no right to inform parents that dress code was broken unless given explicit permission by the student.

I hope that the Board of Education will understand the importance of kids, especially in their adolescent years, to feel comfortable in exploring their gender identity and sexuality safely without fear of being outed or discriminated. By signing this petition, you are strengthening this movement and potentially helping thousands of kids live better, safer lives.

Thank you,

Max A. Stoumen

PS: If you want to express your thoughts, please direct them to the NHCS Board of Education directly, whose contact information can be found here, rather than towards the Isaac Bear staff.

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