A Kahuku transgender woman says she was denied a milestone moment: walking with her class at her high school graduation.
Now a petition is spreading online urging the Department of Education to implement a policy to make sure all students are respected.
A department spokeswoman could not answer specific questions about the student, but said officials have been working on guidelines for at least six months.
Kahuku High School’s graduation ceremony has included a student performance for the last 20 years.
In a seven-minute video published Wednesday, Jennea, who is a transgender student, says she chose not to participate last year because she was told she couldn’t wear the same color gown as the girls. That video is being shared with the petition.
“I wasn’t able to participate,” she said. “I tried to get a white gown, which is for females, and the red gown is for the males.”
Jennea still received her diploma from the public school, but says her principal would talk to her about being a boy.
“The allegations about the gown are not true, as well as the allegations she was discriminated against,” said DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz.
Hina Wong-Kalu is a Native Hawaiian transgender woman. Her story’s also shared with the Kumu Hina Project, which is behind the petition.
“What gain and what benefit would this young transgender woman have to subject herself to the scrutiny and the judgments of the community, knowing what will come?” Wong-Kalu asked. “When you are put down because this is your personal articulation and expression of yourself, you question everything else that you do.”
The department says it is establishing guidelines that could be implemented next school year that would cover bathroom use, along with student records if a student changes his or her identity while in school.
“Will teachers and counselors receive some type of mentoring or training so they know how to address issues that might come up?” KHON2 asked.
“Yes, there have been some complexes that have already held their own type of training in dealing with various students,” Dela Cruz said.
The vice chairman of the Board of Education says the board will continue to ensure that there is a prompt investigation of any complaint.
Existing BOE policy states that “a student shall not be excluded from participation in any program, services, or activity of the Department of Education.”