Video by PBS NewsHour
Going to the bathroom was a nerve-wracking experience for Alex Singh before he came out as transgender in middle school.
“I just felt very out of place and like I did not belong,” the 14-year-old high school freshman told the NewsHour.
As Alex transitioned from female to male, he still felt uneasy about sharing a male restroom, even with students he had known for years. He opted for the nurse’s restroom instead and, although he wasn’t happy with this decision, he used the female faculty room instead of the male changing rooms.
“But it was a lot better than feeling uncomfortable in a room full of girls getting changed,” said Alex, who appeared in Frontline’s documentary “Growing Up Trans” last year.
High school was easier, because fewer students had known him before he transitioned.
The latest court battle over trans rights has centered around North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law. But the Obama administration’s guidance, released on Friday, also directed public schools to allow transgender students access beyond the school’s sex-segregated facilities like locker rooms.
The directive said yearbook photos, school dances, graduation ceremonies, and other school-sponsored extracurricular activities and social events “must allow transgender students to dress and participate according to their gender identity.”
The guidance came four days after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory had filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, asking Congress for clarification over the nation’s anti-discrimination laws.
“It is a very complex and emotional issue. And I think the courts are the right way to do it,” McCrory told the NewsHour on Monday, adding that he encouraged separate unisex restrooms or facilities for trans people.
Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, told the NewsHour on Friday that the current debate over transgender rights is also about the privacy rights of other students.
“Students have an expectation of privacy in those facilities and the Obama administration is completely trampling those rights” by issuing that guidance, Tedesco said.
The administration had said the state’s law, passed in March, violated the Civil Rights Act, including Title IX, which bans discrimination based on sex. The guidance has been part of the administration’s actions to block implementation of North Carolina’s law.
Shifting the conversation around transgender rights into the national spotlight is beneficial to everyone, Alex said.
“It could help people actually start to understand this, because people fear what they do not know,” he said. “And because everyone’s starting to talk about it, people are going to start to learn more about it, so people will have less to fear because they will know more.”
Today, Alex is on his high school’s lacrosse team, his first time being on a male sports team. Alex said his teammates and coaches are accepting and treat him as “one of the guys, so to speak.”
“That makes me the happiest person on Earth to know that the people at my school and in my community are capable of understanding and accepting me for who I am,” he said.