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September 7, 2013

Kasey’s quest

Transgender teen shrugs off slings and arrows, travels road from girl to manhood

(Continued)

JOHNSTOWN — Changing times

Plenty of people have heard Kasey, and not just through his drumsticks. His message of tolerance and acceptance has led to changes at Richland.

He organizes the Day of Silence effort each year at Richland. The program has students across the nation declining to speak to call attention to the bullying and harassment that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students face.

He also got the school handbook section on bullying revised. Initially, the handbook outlined things for which students could not be bullied, such as race, religion, etc., but it did not cover sexual orientation or gender issues. Since then, Kasey said, it has been revised.

“It’s very vague now, and that’s fine,” he said.

Richland has made a big commitment to stamping out bullying over the past few years.

Marissa Lydic, a freshman who met Kasey two years ago through marching band, said that the older student has helped her overcome bullying.

“They couldn’t accept me because I was different. She’s helped me stand up for what I believe in,” Marissa said. “She’s there if anyone’s bothering me. She’s there to make sure I’m doing OK and that it gets fixed the proper way.”

Marissa, like many others, struggles with pronouns when it comes to Kasey. Those who have known him for years – especially his family members – often refer to him as “she” or “her,” and Kasey understands that.

“I get that it’s going to be just as much of a transition for everyone else as it is for me,” he said. “I don’t get offended when people refer to me as a she.”

Hopes crushed

While Hendricks said that there likely have been people with gender issues for years, it’s only recently become more acceptable to talk about it. That means that schools and workplaces often are looking for solutions to problems that they had not previously faced. Issues like which locker room Kasey should use prior to gym class.

Rather than put him in with the girls or the boys, Richland agreed to let him use the room where officials change before sporting events. That solved the locker room problem and the school also allowed him to use the restroom facilties in the room instead of choosing a public, shared restroom. But that was a less-than-ideal solution, as he had to go to the office to get a key to the room, walk to the locker room, use the facilities, walk back to the office and then return to class, which often was on the other side of the building. That meant that going to the restroom in the four minutes students have between classes was impossible. And leaving class also wasn’t a good option.

“My teachers started to get a little suspicious as to why I was gone for 10 minutes,” Kasey said.

This year, he’s relented.

“I use the girls’ restroom, just because I’d probably get in trouble if I used the guys’ restroom,” he said. “I’ve been going to Richland my whole life, so if I go to the girls’ restroom, nobody will get offended. I understand it’s not in my best interest as far as giving off the right vibe, but it’s a little bit more convenient.”

Another issue arose on the second day of school this year. Kasey was asked if he wanted to appear on the ballot for homecoming king or queen. He chose the male ballot and, thinking that he had finally realized his dream of being recognized as male, Kasey posted on Facebook asking anyone who supported him to vote for him.

“He was so excited,” his girlfriend said. “Not only just because people were accepting him, but he knew he had a good chance of being king, because of all the support he was getting. He was so happy.”

The joy only lasted a few days. The day the voting was to be held, Kasey was told that he couldn’t be on the male ballot because he was listed as a female on his driver’s license. Even though the school had recognized his desire to be treated as a boy, administrators said, state law prohibited them from putting him on the ballot for boys.

The last-minute change didn’t prevent Kasey from getting the number of votes needed to be on the court, even though he was listed as a girl.

School administrators were unsure what to do with him, as it would be awkward for both Kasey and his escort to be accompanied by a male student. School administrators said that he could attend – but on the girls’ side.

Despite having the support of his classmates, he wouldn’t be able to get the recognition he so desperately wanted.

Kasey was crushed.

“He cried a lot,” Katie said. “He was really upset. It was like they gave him what he really wanted to be and then they backtracked on it. “

Kasey and his family decided to appeal the decision to the school board. They have taken his story to the media and drawn support from around the world. Kasey has been asked to be a guest speaker at Clarion University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The American Civil Liberties Union has pledged its support, and Kasey is expected to have a strong backing at Monday night’s school board meeting, where Kasey’s allies are being encouraged to wear blue.

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