When the Obama administration issued a directive requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms and public facilities according to their gender identity, it was akin to the president putting his foot down on the matter. But there has been pushback on this divisive issue, from states attempting to sue the federal government, to smaller scale protests like the one in Pennsylvania recently where a cisgender student claimed she won't pass high school if she's required to use the same locker rooms as her trans peers.
In a powerful rebuttal to her argument, transgender teen Ari Bowman gave a speech to the East Penn School District imploring administrators to recognize trans rights. "The hate that the transgender community has been receiving lately has been terrible," Bowman told the crowd. "People say things without an open mind and as if we're not human beings like they are."
Bowman made a strong case against the demand for transgender students using facilities according to the gender they were assigned at birth.
"I change in the boy's locker room and I have seen zero genitalia, which is kind of why I do not understand that people make the assumption that a transgender girl would accidentally reveal herself in the locker room," Bowman said. He also told of how, when he was in first grade, the girls in school would not let him use the girl's bathroom because he "looked like a guy."
The East Penn I will always remember is the East Penn that has supported me from first grade 'til now, regardless of the fact that I'm transgender.
The video of his speech, posted on Facebook by his mom Alisa Bowman, has been viewed more than 41,000 times. Comments poured in online offering support and love, and praise for the young teen's courage — and the Bowman family was floored.
"Of course, I've always thought Ari was an awesome kid. And I thought his speech was powerful. And I knew there were lots of tears in the room as he gave it. And I knew he got a standing ovation. It was moving. But I didn't expect people would be able to feel that energy just by watching our bad video with wonky audio taken from behind with an iPhone," Alisa told A Plus in writing.
It was scary enough to go before the school board and essentially announce my son's gender to our entire community. To allow this announcement to spread on Facebook, where perfect strangers and Westboro Baptist Church could watch it? It made me sick to my stomach. But people kept telling me how much good it could do – and how many minds it could change. So I decided to trust them and I made the video public. And then the views just started piling up.
Bowman was one of more than a dozen others who spoke at the meeting in support of transgender students. In a statement to BuzzFeed on the report about the cisgender student who earlier made the complaint, the East Penn School District said it would continue to uphold the federal government's order.
Amid the national attention, perhaps what Bowman ultimately succeeded in doing is countering the hateful rhetoric and fearmongering about transgender people, simply by standing up there and speaking from the heart. Alisa said:
I think it's because it's really hard for people to hold onto their stereotypes of transgender people when they listen to my son speak. People tell themselves, for example, that transgender people are mentally ill or freaks or misfits. But then you hear my son speak so eloquently and you know those words are not coming from a mentally ill person. When you learn he's getting A+s in advanced math and is in all honors classes and also sings in the choir and plays the viola and the ukulele as well as plays soccer and is a black sash in kung fu (and I could actually go on...), it's even harder to believe that he's mentally ill. Because he's NOT mentally ill, and he's no anomaly, either. When you learn that he's got dozens of friends, it's really hard to call him a misfit. He's just a normal boy, just like any other boy, and his speech helps to show that. He's thriving, in part, because he's being affirmed. He's living proof that affirming transgender children – by respecting their pronouns and names and welcoming them into bathrooms and locker rooms – is the way to go.
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