Red Lion denies transgender student's request

Andrew Shaw and Erin Hames
The York Dispatch

Editor's note: This article originally was published May 6, 2013.

Transgender Red Lion Area High School senior Issak Wolfe won't hear his name called at graduation on June 7.

He'll hear his birth name, Sierra Stambaugh.

That was the decision of Red Lion officials in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, responding to the ACLU's demands that Wolfe's chosen male name be announced at graduation, among other demands, after Wolfe's male identity was not recognized during a prom court ballot.

Red Lion

In a letter to the ACLU dated May 3, the district's solicitor writes that the district will allow Issak Wolfe to wear the boy's cap and gown, which is black, and not the female gown, which is yellow, honoring one of Wolfe's requests. But, solicitor Benjamin Pratt wrote, the district will read students' legal names when they receive diplomas.

Wolfe, 18, said he has used his male name since the summer before his junior year of high school. He said he plans to legally change his name, but that process cannot be completed before graduation next month. Most teachers and students have called him by Issak for some time now, he said, and he wants that to continue through graduation.

The district's letter is posted on the ACLU's website at

"I think that's a really harmful decision for their students ... I think they forget that I'm one of the students at their school," Wolfe said, adding he wants to make sure no transgender student feels this way again around the country.

ACLU attorney Molly Tack-Hooper said the district has not explained the rationale behind its decision, as "we have not heard from them since the letter."

Tack-Hooper said legal action is still a possibility, although Wolfe and the ACLU are hoping Wolfe can reason with the school board, as the case law for this situation is limited. Wolfe said he understands the diploma is a legal document and needs his legal name, but that there's no reason "Issak Wolfe" can't be announced, as that's what people know him as.

"There is absolutely no legitimate reason for the school to refuse to read Issak's male name at graduation," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, according to a news release. "Their failure to do so shows the same lack of sensitivity they exhibited during Issak's attempt to run for prom king and knowingly mars what should be a happy occasion for Issak and his family."

Prom king vs. queen: The controversy began late last month, when Wolfe went public with his complaint that high school principal Mark Shue circumvented his campaign for prom king at the last minute by including Wolfe's birth name on student ballots under the prom queen category, and did not tell Wolfe in advance. Wolfe's father, William Stambaugh, said Shue told him the decision was based on traditional gender roles for prom king and queen. Shue has not returned calls seeking comment.

Wolfe asked for an apology and sought help from the ACLU.

In Red Lion's letter, Pratt wrote that the district "has already apologized for the lack of communication with regard to where the student was placed on the ballot."

"Since neither the student nor the parents have asked for a public apology prior to your involvement, the district will not provide another apology at this time," the letter reads.

Tack-Hooper said the ACLU thinks a public apology is deserved. Wolfe said he has never gotten an apology from Shue. Some high school staff apologized, he added, but not the person directly involved.

"I want the person that made me feel that way say they are sorry to make me feel that way," Wolfe said.

Red Lion also denied the ACLU's demand for an addendum to district policy to include language about transgender discrimination.Wolfe said he plans to address the district's school board at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at the school administration building, with his supporters planning to wear green as a symbol of unity. The speech may be during public comment, Tack-Hooper said; Red Lion hasn't indicated the district would be willing to make the issue part of the formal agenda.

District superintendent Scott Deisley did not return calls seeking comment, and has previously said the district wants to respect the privacy of the situation.

Wolfe said he hopes the national attention the situation has received will "help someone else" avoid the same plight.