By Alex Philippsen
At age 11, Ren Williams learned the definition of the word “transgender.”
“My mom told me when I was a kid that I walked up to her one day and asked her… if I was going to grow up to be a boy,” Williams said.
Williams, who was assigned female at birth, constantly thought about that conversation over the next five years, until he finally realized his true gender identity.
But when Williams, now 16, came out to his friends and family as transgender, he faced a wave of discrimination.
It started with his family. Despite support from his mother, Williams’ father, who Williams claims is a homophobe, wouldn’t accept this reality.
“I tried to ask him about it,” Williams said, “and he just told me that he doesn’t love me enough to call me his son.”
The intolerance would extend beyond home. While waiting for the bus, Williams and his girlfriend, Alyssa, were attacked by two boys, who called Williams homophobic slurs.
The discrimination even reached Chichester High School, where Williams could not use either the men’s or women’s restroom. Instead, he had to use the restroom in the nurse’s office.
Williams said when he tried to use the restroom in the boys’ locker room, he would get persecuted by his peers.
After seeking support from faculty, Williams said they weren’t much help either.
“[They said] ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘it’s a normal reaction,’ when it’s not a normal reaction,” Williams said, “so I just stuck with the nurse’s bathroom instead.”
Williams is one of thousands of transgender people who face discrimination in education, their families, and society as a whole.
A study conducted by both the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, two nonprofit organizations that advocate for the LGBT community, reported that 78 percent of transgender students from grades K-12 have experienced harassment. Thirty-five percent have experienced physical assault.
The harassment led to 15 percent of transgender students having to leave school. Those who had been harassed by teachers were reported to be in worse health compared to those that didn’t.
In 2015, the U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) was the largest survey that examined how transgenders experienced life in the United States.
According to the survey, those that have received support from their families were less likely to have any negative experiences, suchas attempted suicide or homelessness.
Fifty-four percent of those with unsupportive families have attempted suicide, while 37 percent with supportive families have attempted suicide.
The same study reported that one in 10 respondents said that a family member was violent towards them because of their gender identity, while one in 12 were forced to move out.
The USTS also surveyed data from transgenders experiences in restrooms, where almost one-tenth of respondents said that they were denied access to a restroom in the past year. Twelve percent of respondents were verbally harassed while using a restroom.
In 2017, The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) conducted a study with transgenders’ experiences in restrooms and found that almost half (45.8 percent) of their respondents have had a negative experience in a restroom. About 56 percent felt that they weren’t safe in a restroom.
The NCBI indicates that sex discrimination in restrooms does violate the protections transgender students are given under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
According to Title IX: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, gives transgender students the right to be treated according to your gender identity. This includes the right to use restrooms that matches their gender identity and the right to not be bullied because of their gender identity.
Today, despite the challenges, Williams said he continues to look towards an optimistic future.
Recently, Williams moved out of his parents’ house and is currently living with his girlfriend, Alyssa.
“To this day, [Alyssa is] pretty supportive and it’s all fine,” Williams said.
Williams also said that most of his mother’s side of the family has been very supportive, especially his cousin, T.J. Williams said that after he came out to T.J., T.J. helped relieve some of his financial stress during his transition by distracting him with free guitar lessons.
Today, Williams said that he attends events that focus on transgender issues and tries to communicate with Pennsylvania politicians about the security and civil rights for transgenders, especially students. One of those politicians is Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf; however, Williams said that he still hasn’t gotten a response from Wolf.
Even with all the complications that he goes through today, Williams said that people who struggle with coming out about their gender identity should talk about it with someone.
“Look for the helpers,” said Williams, referring to an old quote from the show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” “There are always people helping.”
Williams also emphasized the importance of believing and trusting in one’s self, adding, “It’s a very hard struggle, but don’t stop. You’re going to get where you want to be one day.”
Contact Alex Philippsen at firstname.lastname@example.org