ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Eight years ago, Robynn Bell went to Albuquerque Public Schools administrators to push for equal treatment for her transgender daughter, Saly.
Today, Saly is about to turn 18 and graduate from Media Arts Collaborative Charter School as an honor roll student and president of the Student Government Association.
“APS did the brave and right thing for my daughter,” Robynn Bell told the Board of Education during a public forum at Wednesday’s meeting. “I asked that they register her in her chosen name and as female and they agreed. … The point is that instead of something horrible happening by allowing her to be herself, only good came of it.”
The mother and daughter were among about 100 people who packed the meeting to advocate for a proposed APS procedural directive designed to protect transgender kids from discrimination.
A number of local groups that support transgender rights helped organize the turnout, including Equality New Mexico and the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico.
They say the directive is badly needed.
Under its terms, transgender students can dress in accordance with their gender identity and be addressed by the name and gender pronoun of their choosing.
Most controversially, they can also use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. For instance, a child who was born a boy but is transitioning to being a girl can go into the girls restroom.
The APS board’s policy committee discussed the directive March 9, though it does not require a board vote. The directive was crafted to adhere to Title IX, federal law that prohibits sex discrimination.
It has now gone to the superintendent’s leadership committee for final consideration.
The roughly 30 speakers who addressed the board Wednesday in support of the directive said they want to be sure it gets through.
One after another stressed the need for inclusiveness and support for transgender kids, who commit suicide and become homeless at high rates.
Many addressed restroom and locker room issues, saying that transgender people aren’t trying to expose themselves when they use the toilet.
Amani Malaika, mother of an 11-year-old transgender child, feels these concerns are “born out of a lack of information and understanding.”
She compared her son’s struggle for equality to the fight against racism.
“There was a time not very long ago when I would not have been able to drink from the same water fountain as a white student,” said Malaika, who is black. “That harmful and painful rule was born out of the same ignorance that is threatening our school district today.”
Ten people spoke out against the directive, focusing largely on bathroom policy.
They worried that kids would feel uncomfortable using the restroom or locker room with transgender students.
“How do we protect the kids if they are accidentally exposed to something?” asked Anna Larez, mother of a 10th-grader.
Those concerns were echoed by board member Peggy Muller-Aragón, who rejected any parallels between transgender issues and racism.
“Anyone who wants to compare this to the civil rights movement is plain ignorant,” she said. “No one is being denied a stool in the lunch room, denied a hotel room, denied a seat in a classroom, denied an education or denied housing.”
The transgender advocacy organizations are “small, extremist groups” that “represent the few,” according to Muller-Aragón.
She pressed for a public vote to decide the directive’s fate, adding that nearly everyone who has spoken to her is against it.
Board member Steven Michael Quezada hit back with a quote from the Pledge of Allegiance: “Liberty and justice for all.”
“Not for the majority but for all,” he added. “It is easier said than done.”
Acting Superintendent Raquel Reedy told the board and attendees that her leadership committee will consider all the comments as they review the procedural directive.