Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 4, 2013

Homecoming rule stirs transgender debate at Pa. high school

By Eric Knopsnyder
CNHI News Service

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Kasey Caron didn't plan on making a grand political statement at Richland High School's homecoming ceremony, in this Pennsylvania city 70 miles from Pittsburgh.

He wasn't trying to change any stereotypes about transgender students or fight for equal treatment by asking to be on the king's court.

In fact, Caron, who is a girl but identifies as a female-to-male transgender, didn't even ask to be placed on the male ballot for homecoming court. The guidance counselor, Missy Stringent, asked the 17-year-old which ballot he would prefer to be on. Kasey chose the male side.

"They gave me the option," said Kasey, who was born with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that leads to a hormone imbalance where the ovaries make more androgens – sometimes called male hormones – than normal.

Three days later, Kasey was informed that because his driver's license identifies him as a female, Pennsylvania law prohibits him from being on the male ballot – even though he cannot begin the gender transformation until after he turns 18.

Instead, the school moved Kasey to the female ballot.

"I was trying to be OK with it," he said of getting the news. "I left the office and as soon as I walked across the hallway to the guidance office, I started crying."

Kasey, who estimates that 90 percent of his senior classmates support his decision to run as a male, still won enough votes to earn one of 10 spots on the female court, which will be honored on Oct. 4.

The administration offered to let Kasey be a part of the female court and bring an escort of his choosing.

"I didn't know at that point if I wanted to be on court, if that was the situation," he said. "It just seemed like more of a hassle than just dropping off and letting whoever else go."

Kasey was given until Tuesday to make a decision. By then his mother, Kathy Caron, and her partner, Cindy Theys, had gotten involved and contacted various groups to mount a defense.

"Oh my gosh, I got so angry when I came home and heard the story," Kathy Caron said.

Kasey wrote an editorial that was published on gaynewsletter.com, and word spread quickly about his situation.

On Tuesday, Kathy Caron and Theys sat down with school administrators.

"They were very apologetic. They were very sympathetic," Kathy Caron said. But ultimately, school officials told them they could not change their position.

Richland Superintendent Thomas Fleming declined a request for an interview.

Pennsylvania State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, who co-sponsored anti-discrimination bills earlier this year, said cases such as Kasey’s can help change the way transgendered students are treated.

"I think we have to evolve. We have to have the conversation and more public awareness," Wozniak said. "It's a tough issue, but these are real people, too.

"We're dealing with a situation where it's uncharted territory here in Pennsylvania."

For the 17-year-old, the situation has become much bigger than he expected.

"I was trying to deal with my senior year with the least amount of stress," Kasey said with a laugh. "I was more concerned with what college I’m going to go to and the SATs."

Eric Knopsnyder is editor of The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pa.