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September 3, 2013

Top 10 of 2013 | Homecoming rule stirs transgender debate at Richland

JOHNSTOWN — Kasey Caron didn’t plan on making a grand political statement at Richland High School’s homecoming ceremony.

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.

But, the administration and Kasey agreed that having him be escorted by a male would be too awkward for both students. Instead, Kasey said, Richland offered to let him be a part of the female court and bring an escort of his choosing who wasn’t already on the court.

“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. Read the editorial here.

On Tuesday, Kathy Caron and Theys – who still often refer to Kasey as “she” or “her” – sat down with Richland administrators to discuss how Kasey’s case would be handled.

“They were very apologetic. They were very sympathetic,” Kathy Caron said. “They spoke very highly of Kasey. They wanted to do more for her than they could, but they have to stand by what their lawyers told them.”

Richland Superintendent Thomas Fleming declined The Tribune-Democrat’s interview request.

“The school district does not discuss private student information with the media,” Fleming said. “We are not going to have any discussion with the media about this at this time.”

Kathy Caron said that the school did help them file a request to speak to the school board at 7 p.m. Monday. In addition to the homecoming issue, the Carons plan to petition to ask if Kasey can wear a blue cap and gown at graduation as the boys do rather than the red that girls wear.

The case is similar to the one made by a York County school district in the spring regarding a transgender student. Sierra Stambaugh, who went by the name Issak Wolfe, was denied the opportunity to run for prom king at Red Lion Area High School.

During the school’s graduation ceremony, Wolfe was able to join boys in wearing a black cap and gown, but the school said the diploma must use the student’s legal name.

Kasey, thanks to the androgynous name he was given at birth, won’t have to deal with that issue, which has already getting noticed. The American Civil Liberties Union has reached out to him and the gay/straight alliance at Clarion University has asked him to appear as a guest speaker.

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,” he 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. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/eric_knopsnyder.

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