A New Jersey middle school is refusing to allow 13-year-old Rachel Pepe to return to her school unless she dresses and identifies as a boy.
As reported by the Asbury Park Press, Thorne Middle School in Middletown, New Jersey informed Rachel’s mom, Angela Peters, that she must come back to school prepared to dress like and act like a boy as well as use the name on her birth certificate. No accommodations would be made for her gender identity; Peters suggested letting Rachel use the bathroom in the nurse’s office, but the school rejected that idea.
Peters believes sending Rachel to a new private school that is accepting would be the ideal solution, but Middletown School District is also not willing to support any of the tuition costs.
Rachel was suffering from anxiety and depression before she transitioned last year. “She would get off the bus and just cry, then she would go to sleep for 17 or 20 hours and refuse to go back there,” her mother explained. ”I am not sending her back as Brian because the depression will start again.”
It should go without saying that you shouldn’t have to choose between your mental health and access to education. Indeed, the school’s action likely violates state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund says, “The family would have a strong case against discrimination.”
District officials have now reached out to the family come up with a solution. We hope Rachel gets what she needs. Meanwhile, she’s hoping others are helped by her story. “There could be other kids scared out there, who live secretly at school and go home and be themselves. If this helps one person, I can be happy about that, too.”
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.