By David Fleet
Dustin Auch wanted to know, “Why did God make me wrong?”
“I was 8-years-old and had been attending church with mom—I kept fighting battles after hearing the story of Adam and Eve,” he said. “It was a difficult time for me.”
Auch was born a female, but feels that he is a male—a transgender— where the identity differs from the sex the doctor marked on the birth certificate.
Auch’s parents divorced when he was 2-years-old. He was living in Brandon Township with his mother and grandparents and was an elementary student in the Brandon School District when the youth came out to his mother.
“Mom accepted it and was supportive, but my father disowned me after I came out to him when I was 9-years-old,” he said. “Some thought it was just a tomboy phase when I cut my hair short and started dressing more boy-like.”
But it was more, admits Auch, who moved to Goodrich when he was in the fifth grade.
“Sometimes I got called a faggot or a he/she,” he said. “I felt like I was less of a person. I would use the boys’ bathroom, but I would often wait until no one was in there or just hold it til after school. I did not want to make anyone uncomfortable, but I still had complaints about me going in there. My freshman and junior year (of high school) was the roughest.”
Auch is one of about 150,000 of 1.5 million Michigan high school students that have prompted the State Board of Edu- cation to propose a set of recommendations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning, LGBTQ, individuals. The Michigan State Board of Education, which oversees the Department of Education, began discussing the proposed policy in February of this year.. School districts wouldn’t be required to adopt the policy, but it would become a guideline for administrators to follow. A public comment period has been extended at least 30 days past the April 30 deadline due to the interest in the topic, say state officials.
Halfway through his junior year, Auch switched to high school online classes and did school work from home.
“I was bullied and harassed at times. I just really wanted to be accepted with the rest of the students,” he said. “So I went back to school my senior year and it was better. I went to the prom, too. I had my name legally changed to Dustin and the teachers were good about it. But at times it seemed in high school I never believed it would get any better—I kept thinking, ‘I have four years of this to go.’ But I graduated in 2015 and moved on and can do whatever I want now. I’m making my own life now.”
Auch, 19, who remains estranged from his father, is called on to speak for the LGBTQ at area schools.
“If I could tell the school officials anything, it would be that I’d rather have people ask me a million questions about my identity than just make things up or Google some information or assume something,” he said. “I want the Department of Education to know I want to be treated like anyone else.”
The state board of education pointed to a 2015 Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey which shows that students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual— 8.4 percent of all high school students— are 2.3 times more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school property than their non-LGB peers, and they are 2.3 times more likely to skip school because they feel unsafe. Forty-one percent of LGB students report being bullied on school property, and they are 4.5 times more likely to attempt suicide.
Bill Disessa, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education, said the guidelines came after several school districts approached the board seeking some direction.
“We were asked by several school districts to determine the best way to help the LGBTQ students,” said Disessa. “They need more support and we have provided some guidelines.”
The board emphasizes the overall goal is to insure the safety, comfort, and healthy development of all students. To further this objective they proposed adoption of these guidelines:
Names and pronouns—School staff should address students by their chosen name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity, regardless of whether there has been a legal name change.
Student records—When requested, schools should engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to change current unofficial student records with the chosen name and appropriate gender markers to promote consistency among teachers.
Privacy and confidentiality regarding disclosures—Transgender and gender non-conforming students have the right to decide when, with whom, and to what extent to share private information.
Restrooms—Students should be allowed to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity.
Locker rooms or changing facilities—A student should not be required to use a locker room that is incongruent with their gender identity.
Physical education classes, intramural sports and interscholastic sports—Students should be allowed to participate in physical education classes and intramural sports in accordance with their gender identity.
Dress code—Students should have the right to express their gender at school, within the school’s dress code, without discrimination or harassment.
Gender-based activities or practices—Districts should evaluate all gender-based programs and practices and maintain only those that have a clear educational purpose.
Michelle Imbrunone, Goodrich School District superintendent, responded to the guidelines.
“I am encouraged that the state has extended the opportunity to allow all stakeholders to have their voices heard,” said Imbrunone. “I’m hopeful that the Michigan Department of Education will partner with the districts to provide us with the resources necessary to provide support for our students, staff and families.”
“Growing up today with the issues our teens face requires support,” she continued. “We are going to go slow and walk our community through this process. Our students are far too important to do any less. The Michigan Department of Education will certainly understand the long road to comply with this challenge.”
State Representative Joe Graves, (R-51st district, which represents Atlas and Groveland townships objected to the policy.
“The State Board of Education’s misguided policy suggestions were made without any input from parents or educators,” he said. “They go way beyond the scope of the board’s reach and take away important parental rights.”
Patrick Rouse, the father of two daughters, will join 10 ten other parents from the Goodrich School District in Lansing on April 12 to publicly comment on the guidelines.
“This is a very heated topic on both sides,” said Rouse. “I’m going to tell the board that I am not for or against what they are doing, rather my goal is to look at it from the student perspective. For the students that identify as LGBTQ there is some good information in the statement and guidelines—it’s not all bad.”
Rouse emphasized the Michigan Department of Education provides good guidelines for anti-bullying and anti-harassment polices. However, he said the state board of education guidelines stop short on three important issues.
“First, they (the guidelines) exclude the parents of the students,” he said. “The names, pronouns, student records, privacy and confidentiality regarding disclosures all refer to the student—the child, not the parent. It’s wrong and contradictory since the child does not have the legal right to change anything. My heart goes out to the child and part of that would be working with the family and not excluding the parents.”
“Secondly, a student should not be required to use a locker room that is incongruent with their gender identity,” he continued. “In my opinion, that child would feel less equal and more different then others in a locker room. A boy that comes to school dressed like a girl is going to feel very different in a locker room. It’s just not going to help. I worry about the transgender students that are 4-and-a-half times more likely to attempt suicide.”
“Finally, if the school excludes the parents in these decisions and something goes wrong the school and the state board of education would be held liable. We need to slow down and see how we can do this better. This policy is going to cause more problems for students, teachers and parents.”