Red Lion trans students told to use bathrooms of sex assigned at birth or gender neutral

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

The Red Lion Area School Board issued an emergency directive Thursday that students may only use bathrooms and locker rooms that correlate with the gender on their birth certificates. 

A local LGBTQ advocate criticized the order, noting it could place transgender students at risk.

“These children are truly just there to get an education,” Rainbow Rose Center President Tesla Taliaferro said. “They are not there to become political pawns.”

But it isn't just the Red Lion Area School District addressing the issue. During this school year, the issue has popped up in at least Dover Area, Dallastown Area and Central York school board meetings.

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'Foresees evil': Residents have raised concerns about transgender students during the public comment section of multiple school board meetings. 

Red Lion resident Eric Haywood told his board Nov. 21, ”I come to you as a prudent man that foresees evil.”

Eric Haywood speaks about Title IX during the public comment portion of Red Lion Area School District’s Board of School Directors meeting at Red Lion Area Education Center in Windsor Township,Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

The "evil" was the existing transgender and nonbinary policy. He suggested the staff should not be forced to play the “pronoun game,” and that no one should use a bathroom or locker room that doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth. Anyone using the “wrong restroom” should be suspended, charged with trespassing and removed from the school property, he said. 

Taliaferro, the Rainbow Rose Center president, was bewildered by concerns.

"What are they so afraid of?” he asked.

When a child enters a bathroom, they do what they need to do and quickly return to their education and friends, Taliaferro said. He added transgender students are more likely to be assaulted in bathrooms than to be the perpetrators.

“They’re not going in there to bother anyone else,” he said. 

Taliaferro also asked how schools could confirm the child is using the correct bathroom.

Rainbow Rose Center President Tesla Taliaferro

“Do they want security guards checking every child’s genitalia before they walk into a bathroom?” he asked. “That’s an invasion of privacy.”

Christine Crone, who was president of the Red Lion Area School Board until the reorganization meeting last week, said at the Nov. 21 meeting, “We have heard you, and we have been trying to work on things." 

Public forum planned: The board is planning a public forum on the issue on Dec. 19, with the time and place to be announced later.

A conversation about what team a transgender athlete can play on was also included in the Thursday discussion because the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association left the decision up to principals. 

The bathroom directive happened because board member Carolyn Sedora requested to add a discussion and an action item to the agenda. 

The school board’s solicitor, Margaret “Meike” Driscoll, warned the board they can only add action items if they are urgent. 

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“I think we need to talk about the bathroom usage as it relates to boys, girls and all in between," Sedora said, adding locker rooms to the discussion. Sedora suggested the board use gender assigned at birth to guide the administration. 

Board member Donna Haywood agreed and said “the absolute truth is a boy’s a boy and a girl’s a girl; until we get a policy in place, I think we should use whatever’s on their birth certificate.” It's unclear if Eric Haywood, who addressed the board, is any relation to board member Donna Haywood.

'Wake up': At least one parent spoke up in support of the transgender students.

“Transgender children are not something you have to worry about being contagious,” Jill Lutz said.

She said adults should remember these six transgender students are children who need protection. She also said she is more afraid for these children after listening to this meeting. Lutz added there is data available that shows how transgender children are hurt by having to use their assigned birth bathrooms more than anyone else. 

“It isn’t just boys and girls,” she said. “Welcome to 2022. Wake up.”

In 2018, The Associated Press reported that sex and gender are considered different by scientists and doctors because sex refers to anatomy while gender refers to an "inner sense" of being male, female or in between. The Associated Press also reported in May research that showed 94% of 317 children who identified as transgender between ages 3 and 12 still identified as transgender five years after the study began. More than half were using puberty-blocking medication or sex hormones.

Nationwide topic of discussion: These anti-transgender conversations come on the heels of Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20 and a Nov. 19 shooting at an LGBT club in Colorado that killed five people and wounded 17 others. 

“Nearly 1 in 5 of any type of hate crime is now motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias,” the Human Rights Campaign said, and there were at least 300 transgender and gender nonconforming people killed violently in the last decade. Thirty-two of these deaths have happened in 2022.

The campaign created memorial pages for some people who were killed, including two Pennsylvania women: Amariey Lei, who was killed Jan. 1 in Wilkinsburg, Allegheny County, and Miia Love Parker, who was killed April 1 in a Philadelphia suburb. There were over 50 deaths in 2021. 

The campaign said 344 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in statehouses this session; 25 passed.

The Biden administration pushed to formally protect LGBT students by updating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which guards against sexual discrimination. 

Driscoll, the school board's solicitor, said the issue has been litigated across the country, with at least one ruling that a policy allowing transgender students to use their preferred bathrooms doesn't infringe on other students' rights.

'Nip it in the bud': Board member John Blevins also asked what this means for six transgender students currently attending Red Lion Area Junior High School. 

“I’m just thinking if it’s six now, then it can turn into more numbers later,” board member Haywood said, suggesting the board could “nip it in the bud now” and that number won’t get any higher. 

Board member Jay Vasellas asked what happens if the board gives this directive and a child uses the “wrong” bathroom tomorrow.

“What’s the punishment?” he asked. “What are we going to do to the kid?”

He suggested the board add gender-neutral options for the time being, which he was told some of those six students already do, by using a nurse’s bathroom or office staff bathroom. 

“We owe it to these six kids,” he said. 

Vasellas also worried about how parents will respond because the item wasn’t on the agenda. 

Ben Quesenberry speaks about Title IX and a need for better communication between the school district and parents during the public comment portion of Red Lion Area School District’s Board of School Directors meeting at Red Lion Area Education Center in Windsor Township,Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

During the public commentary, Red Lion parent Ben Quesenberry suggested no one is required to identify transgender students by their preferred name and gender if it goes against their religious beliefs. He also wants the district to inform parents if their children request a change. 

Taliaferro, the Rainbow Rose Center president, said the school doesn’t have to notify anyone about the bathrooms because Title IX protects the students' rights and this is a non-issue.

Other districts: Red Lion isn’t the only school district addressing the issue. During a Nov. 21 Central York school board meeting, Rhonda Farman, York County Chapter Chair of Moms for Liberty, asked the board to remove “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” from a discrimination/Title IX sexual harassment policy that affects staff, which was revised February 2021. 

She said this may have “created a huge liability” and asked the board temporarily halt it until there is definitive legal action during the public comment section of the meeting. 

In a Dover Area school board meeting, a mother said it was wrong that district officials allowed her child to use a different name and gender for a year without being notified. 

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In Dallastown Area School District, several parents asked the board why a science teacher was allowed to use they/them pronouns. 

Taliaferro said school boards need to stand up against these parents pushing narratives that play to certain fears. 

“There is nothing to fear of the gender-diverse community,” he said. “All they want is to survive and thrive.” 

Taliaferro said these adults should not be encouraging a bullying mentality. This isolates transgender students, otherizes them and makes it more likely they will be bullied. 

Taliaferro said he is glad Red Lion is moving the residents’ conversation out of the public board meetings so the board can focus on students’ education. 

“But we don’t need to be giving a microphone to hate,” he said, explaining he doesn’t necessarily feel Red Lion's public forum is needed when the board has already heard the opinions. Rather, the topic needs to change. 

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He added there could be a danger to having this forum because it could gather enough support that these demands can go back to the board with action items and the students could lose their rights to bathrooms that match their gender identity. 

— Reach Meredith Willse at or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.