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DODEA to allow Ramstein transgender student to use girls’ bathroom as part of new policy

A recent photo of Blue, the 11-year-old daughter of a U.S. airman at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, may now use the girls bathroom at her base school, after initially being denied access to it. The Department of Defense Education Activity said all openly transgender students will now be able to use the restroom and locker room of their gender identity as part of a new transgender student policy.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JESSICA GIRVEN

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 24, 2016

Note: This article has been corrected.

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — All schools on U.S. military bases worldwide will begin immediately allowing openly transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, officials said Monday.

The announcement reverses a decision earlier this month to deny the 11-year-old transgender daughter of a U.S. airman at Ramstein Air Base access to the girls’ bathroom at her school.

The parents of the student, a fifth-grader at Ramstein Intermediate School who goes by the name Blue, were told Friday that their daughter would be able to use the girls’ bathroom starting Monday, her mother, Jessica Girven, told Stars and Stripes.

“My daughter is over the moon,” she said.

The case drew media attention after Girven expressed her frustrations on social media. LGBT advocacy groups protested that the Department of Defense Education Activity was disregarding guidance issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice by denying a transgender girl access to the restroom consistent with her gender identity.

Will Griffin, a spokesman for DODEA-Europe, said DODEA is working on getting an estimate of how many openly transgender students attend its 168 schools.

DODEA considered guidance from the Defense Department and solutions used by other school districts “to develop a policy that was best suited to our system,” Griffin said.

The goal is to ensure students “feel welcome at each of our schools, in an environment free of discrimination, and that they really have the opportunity to thrive,” he said.

DODEA had been working on adopting a transgender student policy, a process that was hastened by the situation at Ramstein, he said. Principals in the interim were accommodating transgender students on a case-by-case basis to ensure they were treated with dignity and respect until a policy was finalized, Griffin said.

Of the situation at Ramstein, he said, “there’s no question that we as an agency could have done a much better job in expediting the process and providing clear direction and support to the superintendents and the principals. It’s certainly regrettable that there was the potential for negative impact on a student.”

Girven said her daughter, who has attended Ramstein schools since pre-kindergarten, came out as transgender this summer.

“Ever since Blue was 2 or 3 years old, she’s been saying when she grows up, she’s going to be a girl,” Girven said. “She never acted on it (until now) because I think she didn’t know how.”

Blue and her family initially received great support from Ramstein Intermediate School after they informed staff that their daughter was transgender, Girven said.

But on Oct. 6, three days after the school gave permission for her daughter to use the girls’ bathroom, a district superintendent overruled the decision, Girven said.

The family was told that DODEA was still working on a transgender policy at the time, Girven said, and the superintendent said she could not give Blue permission to use the girls‘ bathroom.

Blue was told she would either have to use the boys’ bathroom or newly established gender-neutral, single stall bathrooms. The latter option required Blue to go down three flights of stairs and then walk across the school’s courtyard to a neighboring building or cut through the library, Girven said.

Girven said her daughter just stopped using the bathroom during the school day.

She posted her frustrations on Facebook, and “friends around the world ran with it,” she said, contacting advocacy groups, civil rights lawyers and media organizations on behalf of the family.

On Friday, the American Military Partner Association, the largest organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military families in the United States, said in a statement that “transgender youth already face high rates of marginalization, bullying and harassment” and urged DODEA to correct the decision.

Girven said that statistics show that transgender kids face a high suicide rate, especially those who don’t receive support.

“Support of family, friends and school is literally a life or death situation,” she said. “We only want her happy and safe.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the new policy will apply to bathrooms and locker rooms. However, as of now it will apply only to bathrooms.

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