Where Are The Graphics?

Home | Resources | Calendar | Receive Announcements | Submit a Resource | Advertise on this Site!
Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


1985 Ruling May Impact "Cross-Dressing" Controversy

[ST. LOUIS, MO] - A debate over parents' rights has erupted in the Francis Howell school district, following a fourth grade field trip to Jefferson City. Among the chaperones for the October 18th Castlio Elementary School event was a parent described by other parents as a "cross-dresser." They claim the parent is a man who was wearing a woman's hairstyle, makeup, women's jeans and women's shoes.

The controversy has pitted the rights of that parent against the rights of protesting parents who want the school board to ban "cross-dressers" or notify parents of their presence. Attorney Arlene Zarembka said a case decided in 1985 would give legal leverage to the parent who is the target of the complaints.

The parent in question has not been identified, but has reportedly been an active parent in sschool activities for the past eight years. Francis Howell School Board President Donald Wescott said he has no personal knowledge of the parent, but has heard that "he never wears dresses or skirts and you can't tell he's a man?so nobody ever noticed it."

In the early 1980's, Zarembka and another attorney brought a federal lawsuit against the city of St. Louis, challenging a law that banned dressing in clothing not "according to his or her sex" in a public place. The U.S. Eastern District Court ultimately struck down that provision of the law, on the grounds that it was vague.

According to Zarembka, the judge ruled that the vagueness would encourage arbitrary enforcement, and could target an actor wearing a dress onstage, a man in a kilt, or a teenage girl in her brother's shirt. Because St. Charles County also falls under the Eastern District, Zarembka said that ruling would apply in the Francis Howell situation, should it end up in court.

Schools are allowed to impose dress codes, but Zarembka questioned whether they could apply to a parent. She compared the parent's dress to other kinds of attire that might be considered out of the ordinary. "If a Native American shows up on school grounds and is dressed in traditional Native American clothing, do they need to notify parents? Oh my goodness there's a Native American. Oh my goodness, there's an African American man in a robe!"

Vickie McMichael, a fourth-grader's mother, brought the matter before the school board. During a December 5th meeting that drew about 50 people, she asked the board to form a committee of parents, teachers and board members to draft behavior and dress guidelines for field trip chaperones and volunteering parents at other school events. Otherwise, she said, she wants the school to let her know any time an identified "cross-dresser" is in the building so she can pull her child from school.

But during the school board meeting, board member Jon Bennett countered that "there are serious constitutional issues involved here" in the St. Charles County school system's forming any such policy. "We're all disappointed in the problems that have come from this, and it is embarrassing," Bennett said. "But we can't control this man. We can't control anybody?any parent in our district, and how they choose to dress."

Donald Wescott, the board's president, said the board would not take action until its attorneys decided what could be done, adding that "if anything can be done then it will be done." Wescott told the Vital VOICE, "Whatever we do we have we have to do very carefully."

Wescott said while he is concerned about the rights of the other parents, he will not cater to them at the expense of the parent in question. "We've got a policy that says anything that is disruptive to the educational process, we will not tolerate, but he's never done anything disruptive. He's got a reputation of being a good parent? he's a plus instead of a negative."

While most of the parents at the board meeting wanted to ban "cross-dressing" parents, Wescott said it's always the protesters who turn out for such meetings and supporters tend to stay home.

Sharon DeWitt, who operates a transgender Website called TGToday.com, agreed with that assessment. "It's a shame that the squeakiest wheel often gets the most attention. I applaud the bravery it must take to come out and show others one's deepest feelings of identity, to be comfortable enough in expressing the feminine side of one's persona through choice of clothing."

DeWitt hopes the issue will have educational value. "Perhaps it is beneficial for children to see and be aware of individuals who do not fit into the norm of society. Many decent transgendered individuals do exist, and understanding will be more forthcoming with increased knowledge of their existence," she said.

Stephanie Hapke, who is a transgender woman in transition, echoed that opinion, and said children will handle the situation according to their parents' example. "If a parent gets upset and angry about a person who is not like them, the child will tend towards prejudice."

Hapke hopes that the controversy will educate parents as well. "We are not deviant or sex addicts, we are normal people trying to live our lives just like everyone else. Some of us are parents, and some of us would like to be. Those I know who are [parents] tend to teach their children values like caring and acceptance. Just as a gay person cannot influence a straight person to change their orientation, a transgendered person cannot make a child transgender."

Check out this House About Our News Feed | Get Our News Feed (XML)
Search Google
Search Google |