A student was asked to leave a Wyoming high school classroom this month after refusing to participate in a quiz on her own gender identity.
Now the student’s family and the school are trying to move forward.
A sociology teacher at South High School in Cheyenne showed students the PBS film “Growing Up Trans” on Oct. 12 and 13, according to Lorraine Wilcox, mother of a junior at the high school.
“Growing Up Trans” is a sympathetic study of children transitioning from one gender to another. In it, pediatricians discuss prescribing Vantas, a puberty blocker, to children. Vantas is FDA-approved for men with prostate cancer, “but this has been used successfully by pediatric endocrinologists taking care” of transgender kids, says a doctor in the video.
A doctor in the video says puberty blockers are generally safe, but there has not yet been enough research to see whether they impact adult bone density or neurological development.
Those same doctors stressed intervening with puberty blockers in transgender children before puberty occurs.
“The hormone blockers are, like, my life-saver,” said Ariel, a 13-year-old born a boy who identifies as a girl. “Me turning into a man is probably the most horrifying thing I could ever think of.”
Ariel said the hormone blockers create a biological situation “where you’re still, like, a child, and it’s just great before you develop.”
The documentary takes an honest look at many unknowns associated with puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. The interviewers did not talk to any de-transitioners; that is, transgender people who have chosen to revert back to living as their biological sex. But they did interview a 19-year-old biological female, transgender man, who expressed some regret at having undergone a synthetic male puberty.
Another prevalent theme in the film is how social and medical transition in teens is hard on some families. There were two dads in the film, in different families, who disagreed with their children’s transitioning and refused to sign off on cross-sex hormone access for those children.
But in the end and after some behavioral issues in their children, both dads relented.
Lorraine Wilcox’s daughter was home sick Oct. 12, but attended her sociology class Oct. 13. There, she was told the class was finishing the movie, Wilcox said. There was not an alternate assignment offered to her on that day.
After the documentary, the teacher distributed a quiz that the girl found alarming. She sent a photograph of it to her mom.
“How do you define female and male?” reads a question from the quiz. “What is your understanding of the difference between sex and gender? Can you recall when you first knew you were a boy/girl? When did you begin noticing others were boys/girls?”
Wilcox said the questions were “probing.” At the time, she texted her daughter and told her not to participate in the quiz.
The girl was on her phone during some parts of the movie and during the quiz-taking. The teacher said something to the effect of, “Oh I guess everyone’s on their phones, they have something else to do,” said Wilcox. The teacher then addressed the girl individually.
The student said she didn’t want to participate.
Then the teacher told the girl that since she didn’t feel safe, she should leave the classroom, Wilcox said. The girl then left the classroom.
Wilcox chose not to identify the teacher or her daughter by name.
Wilcox bristled at the reported assumption that her daughter “didn’t feel safe,” and said that was not the issue. She said she’s raised her children to respect other people’s choices and viewpoints, and expects her daughter’s non-participation in a quiz with which she disagreed to be regarded with as much deference as any other unique viewpoint.
Wilcox said she feared that by characterizing her daughter as “feeling unsafe” the teacher has set her up to be persecuted by others at the school.
Wilcox went into school the next day, Oct. 14, hoping to speak to Principal Phil Thompson. He was not there, she said. Wilcox had to work all day Monday, so she attended an evening meeting of the Laramie County District 1 school board.
There, she labelled the documentary and later quiz as “indoctrination.”
She later told Cowboy State Daily that she believed the film glorifies medical transgender interventions in young children.
Thompson called Wilcox the next day, Oct. 18, and they discussed the issue.
Parent Feels ‘Smeared’
But on Wednesday, Oct. 19, a Wyoming News Now story ran in which unnamed district officials claimed Wilcox had not reached out to the school.
“According to district representatives, the parent then went to the school board to complain and hasn’t spoken to the school’s teacher or administrator after the incident,” the story reads.
Wilcox said she felt she had been “smeared” by someone in the district.
“Next thing I know, we’re waking up the next two days and we’re all over the media, being smeared,” she said.
Wilcox said that her daughter did not insult the teacher, and said neither she nor her daughter are hateful or intolerant toward people who identify beyond their natal sex.
“Neither me nor anybody in my family, or my daughter, really care how somebody identifies. We don’t care. But why is it that it’s being forced, and you have to watch this – or if you don’t want to participate you need to leave?” asked Wilcox. “If she wasn’t being disruptive she should have been able to stay in the class and not participate (in the quiz).”
The news story said that members of the public have labelled the teacher a “pedophile.”
Wilcox said she and her daughter were not among those who called the teacher that.
Wilcox said that the posted curriculum for the sociology class vaguely referenced “gender and sexuality.” She said the class should have included a more specific explanation of the film and quiz.
After the incident with Wilcox’s daughter, South High School dispatched a letter stating that the sociology curriculum was adopted through the policy process in 2016, the course textbooks align with state standards and the class is an elective.
“Additionally, the course description is included in the registration process,” the letter reads. “The course is standards driven and based on current research. It also offers flexibility in alternative assignments.”
Dr. Margaret Crespo, superintendent of Laramie County School District 1, told Cowboy State Daily that she was not sure why the girl wasn’t offered an alternative assignment, but that discussion may have happened the day prior when the student was sick. She said the school has policy language allowing for alternate assignments in elective classes.
Crespo also said the school’s website has more specific information about gender-identity standards for the class.
“There’s a ‘content standard about how gender and identity are formed,’” said Crespo. “I’m literally reading this right off the website” referencing the class’s state standards.
“(Those) are currently on our website and have been forever,” she added.
The class curriculum was approved in April 2016. The documentary is recommended as a “potential resource” in that same posted curriculum, she said.
The student as of Friday had been to school every day since the incident, except Oct. 14, when she was gone for an athletic event. Crespo said staff and the principal have been monitoring her reception at school regularly, and no bullying or persecution have been reported.
“If there is something we are not aware of, we would need to know,” said Crespo.
Regarding district officials’ statements to the media that Wilcox had not reached out to school staff on Wednesday, Crespo said she was unsure how that narrative emerged, but “there are a lot of moving parts” in the incident and its wake.
Crespo confirmed that the principal reached out to Wilcox and the pair spoke Tuesday.
Principal Phil Thompson told Cowboy State Daily he and Wilcox had a nice visit that day. He said both the student and the teacher in the incident are “well-respected” at the school, adding that he regrets how social media can exacerbate hot-button issues.
“They’re both really good people, and I think it’s a shame for this to be taken to this extent by opposing groups,” said Thompson.