This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A suburban Philadelphia school district has opted to defend its policy on transgender students in the face of a recent lawsuit. Though it does not have an official written protocol, the Boyertown Area School District near Pottstown, Pennsylvania permits students to use the bathroom and locker room that matches their gender identity.
Earlier this month, an anonymous student, backed by a conservative group, sued the district claiming this practice violates his right to privacy and constitutes sexual harassment. The student is represented by the organization Alliance Defending Freedom, that has filed similar lawsuits in other states. The Alliance and the student offered to settle the case if Boyertown Area officials would reverse their position.
After a charged public meeting Tuesday night, the district’s school board rejected that settlement agreement by a vote of 6-to-3.
This headline-grabbing case will now move forward, joining a raft of similar suits that will eventually help determine the rights of transgender students in public schools.
And those rights were debated forcefully Tuesday night in this commuter community wedged in among Pottstown, Reading, and the outer fringes of the Main Line.
Though the tone was mostly civil, the words were often sharp. The arguments reflected a growing national debate on this contentious issue.
Stephanie Deiterich, mother of a transgender student, said her son had contemplated suicide. Policies like the one in Boyertown Area School District, she argued, are milestones of acceptance in an often-hostile world.
"When as a parent you read in black and white that your child is contemplating killing themselves or cutting themselves because they don’t fit in, it’s scary," she said.
But other parents, like Ashley Hertzler feared the district’s policy could endanger their children’s privacy and make room for predatory behavior, though they did not cite any incidents when that had happened.
"Are you going to be able to stop these young men from going into my daughter’s locker room? I don’t think you can," she said. "Once you set this precedent, it’s over."