Debate over transgender rights expected to continue at South Western School District

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

South Western School District won't be considering a second proposal concerning student bathroom usage Wednesday, but that doesn't mean the debate is over.

Currently the school board's agenda lists three speakers — and others may be added later — who wish to discuss a proposal that would have required all students to use the bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates.

Earlier this month, the board rejected a proposal that was put forth by one of its members. The elected officials from the Penn Township-based school district, however, agreed to send the matter to the district's attorney and consider a similar proposal at a later date.

The South Western school board meeting regarding transgender students’ bathroom and locker room usage in Hanover on Wednesday, Apr. 12, 2023.

During that previous meeting, dozens of parents and community members spoke out on the matter.

Questions surrounding how schools accommodate transgender students — as well as allegations of bullying against them — have cropped up in a number of districts recently, including Central York and York Suburban.

State legislatures nationwide, including in Pennsylvania, are taking up a raft of policies restricting trans students from joining athletic teams, using restrooms and having access to gender-affirming health care.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination law. It could go up for a vote in the Democratic-held House soon, although it faces pushback from the Republican-led state Senate.

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One of the speakers on Wednesday night's agenda, South Western graduate Tyler Bunty, wants the district to put curriculum in place to help students develop emotional intelligence.

As someone who suffered from Asperger's syndrome, Bunty struggled with bullying when he was a student. He contemplated suicide a few times, he told The York Dispatch. 

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“High school was when it got bad,” he said, noting that he often was the target of slurs and even physical confrontations.

Tyler Bunty at his home in York County on Friday, Apr. 21, 2023.

Bunty said he believes teaching classes on emotional intelligence can help neurotypical students better interact with neurodivergent — and vice versa. It would also help lower the temperature on recent debates over transgender students, he said.

It broke Bunty's heart listening to parents ask for a restrictive policy targeting other students, he said. 

“I feel for the trans students who deal with the same thing,” he said. “People were uncomfortable with me, too.”

Naomi Asper, from Hanover, speaking at the South Western school board meeting regarding transgender students’ bathroom and locker room usage in Hanover on Wednesday, Apr. 12, 2023.

Another victim of South Western's bullying culture, Naomi Asper, a transgender woman and founder of Hanover Pride, also plans to attend Wednesday's meeting. 

“I don’t think the fight is over,” Asper said, adding the board creating a policy is still a possibility and it can go either way.

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Asper liked the suggestion of one board member, Amanda Weaver, to think about all the students. This can be done, Asper said, by making gender-neutral bathrooms with stalls that feature locking doors.

From her vantage point, all students are impacted by the vitriol associated with this debate.

“It’s all of them who are going to be affected by their decisions,” Asper said. 

The board meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday at 225 Bowman Road, Penn Township. It can be watched in person or online through their YouTube channel,

— Reach Meredith Willse at or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse