A small article appeared in the Chicago Tribune late in September. "School board members in Avoca Elementary District 37 [ Wilmette ] said they had voted to reaffirm their decision last month to retain Deanna Reed, who underwent a sex change, as principal of Marie Murphy Middle School."
This is what really happened to Deanna, but it could have happened to you! So just imagine ...
You've worked in the school district for a quarter of a century, and for the past dozen years have had the job that you've trained for and aspired to all your life ... the principal of one of the most highly ranked schools in the country. You've hired all but a few of the faculty in those dozen years, and you've led the team that has made that school what it is today. You love your job, and the students and faculty show their appreciation for the job you've done, and for the compassion that you have brought to that job.
But you have a part of you that you have kept hidden your whole life ... an important part of you ... your gender. And after all that time, and all you have accomplished, you cannot go on any longer hiding who you are. Wearing a disguise to work every day, and pretending to be something you are not, pretending to be a gender you are not.
So you steel up your courage to tell your boss that you can't go on, that you are a woman ... you come out to your boss.
The first thing your boss does is tell you that you may have to relocate, and that he will have to consult with the school board. He calls an emergency school board meeting, to which you are not invited, and he outs you to the board. They discuss your "condition" in your absence, and then decide that for the good of all, they need to inform all the residents of the district. So they compose a letter, outing you to all the people who live in the school district.
Then they decide that it is not sufficient to out you to the community, they send out a press release about your identity to all the major papers in Chicago and the suburbs ... inviting them to out you to the world. The papers have no qualms about writing about you, although they have never met you or spoken with you. They feel it is perfectly all right to describe your "condition," to discuss the most intimate details about your anatomy, to objectify you in print to the point of dehumanization.
Then the board decides that in the best interest of the community, they would have "coffees" with the parents. At these town hall meetings, they invite parents to meet with you and have their questions answered. Three of these meetings are scheduled, at which dozens of parents grill you and hurl insults at you for hours, without the benefit of a facilitator to keep the questions civil. You are accused of everything from deceit for having kept your gender a secret, to perversion for blaspheming God by your very existence.
You can't do anything but sit there and take this verbal assault. Those who speak up for you are silenced. It is like the Inquisition.
Those who speak against you take up a petition to get you reassigned or fired. They want you to be removed from their school so their precious children will not be exposed to such a hideous monstrosity as yourself. They take this petition door-to-door, obtaining about dozens of signatures before they turn it in to the school board and demand your removal.
The drama is finally coming to the last act. It is late in September. That same night, President Bush is addressing the joint session of Congress, speaking about the war on terrorism, and the tragedy of the week before. Yet hundreds of people feel compelled to come out to the school board meeting to voice their opinion on your gender identity. Your gender is more important to them than war and global terrorism.
They line up at the microphone to speak, while you can do nothing but sit there in the audience, and listen to whatever insults are hurled at you. And hurled they are. You listen as a parent utters a dire warning that property values will be driven down if you are allowed to stay on, that the school will become a lightning rod for terrorists. You are appalled when another parent describes how his child is afraid to be in the same room with you, that you might molest her. Where does a child learn that?
But then the more rational elements start making themselves known, and speaking on your behalf. The parents, the teachers, the students finally come forward to support you, and to commend you for your courage. And they implore the school board to stand by their original decision to retain you as principal. One of the parents presents another petition, this time signed by hundreds, not dozens, all urging the board to keep you on.
Tears come to your eyes as three of your students summon up the nerve to approach the microphone. And they tell this austere gathering of affluent and highly educated adults that none of the other kids they know has any problem with your gender, and they just wish the adults would stop making such a big deal out of it. The youngest can't be more than 11 years old. She says, "Our principal's gender was broken, but now it's fixed."
Earlier that evening, the teachers association circulated an open letter to the board in support their principal.
"As teachers we believe that one of the most important words in [ the School Board's list of goals for students ] is the word 'respect'. Respect serves as the cornerstone for nearly all interactions and behaviors in our classrooms. Without it a teacher cannot manage a classroom and students will not learn. Each child must learn to respect other children and accept that differences exist. To a certain extent, it is how children 'learn to be students' ... ."
After four hours of public testimony, the board members one-by-one did reaffirm their earlier decision to continue Dr. Reed's employment as principal in a school that she helped to establish as one of the finest middle schools in the country.
Dr. Deanna Reed never complained throughout her ordeal of those two months, nor did she show anything but respect for the parents or the board. She attended to the students needs, and worked with the teachers to establish the curriculum for the year. She acted as the very role model of respect. Her students learned a valuable lesson about differences, and about life, from her actions. They learned that you can be different, that you can be yourself, and that in the end you can be a better person for it.
It's a shame that some of their parents will never learn that same lesson.
Miranda Stevens-Miller can be reached at MirandaSt1@aol.com