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Area teen struggles with difficulties of being transgender at school

A local student says they are being targeted because of their nonconforming gender status.

Posted: Nov 22, 2017 10:44 PM
Updated: Nov 24, 2017 9:47 AM

ALBERT LEA, Minn. - A record number of transgender people have been killed in the last year and considering young people are questioning their gender identity now more than ever, that's a worrisome fact to face. The University of Minnesota Medical School finds 2.7% of Minnesota high school students identify as transgender or gender nonconforming. According a national survey done by Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 75% feel unsafe at school. That includes a local student.

“Sometimes I feel more feminine so I wear typical feminine clothing but most of the time I just throw on some clothes.”

When it comes to gender, Finn is nonconforming which means they don't fully identify as male or female.

“When I was little I started questioning it. I didn't like the gender norms that were being placed on me.”

Originally from Mankato, Finn and their family moved to Albert Lea almost one year ago, but fitting in at school hasn’t been easy.

“I mean growing up it was fun going to school to learn things and think about what you want to do when you grow up. Now, it's just kind of hard because you have to worry all the time about how people are going to see me and worried if someone is going to say a mean joke or something like that,” says Finn.

Finn's mom, Lynda Michel, says because of bullying and harassment in the small community, her child has attempted suicide multiples times.

“I am my kid’s biggest protector, defender, cheerleader so it makes me extremely angry especially when I have approached the principal multiple times about this,” says Michel.

KIMT has made calls to the school to find out where they are with these complaints. Superintendent Mike Funk says he was only made aware of the issues Monday and says while he cannot comment on specifics; he and other district officials are investigating the family’s claims. We do know the district has specific policies and a system in place when it comes to reporting harassment and bullying.

The harassment and violence policy states:
“The policy of the school district is to maintain a learning and working environment that is free from harassment and violence on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, gender, age, marital status, familial status, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, or disability. The school district prohibits any form of harassment or violence on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, gender, age, marital status, familial status, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, or disability.”

It goes on to say the school will investigate all complaints formal and informal. Dealing with these type of complaints is nothing new for Director of Secondary Programs with Albert Lea Schools, Kathy Niebuhr.

“What all of these policies call for is progressive restriction action all the way up to suspension or expulsion from school. We never want it to get to that point,” says Niebuhr.

But Finn says the targeting doesn't stop at students.

“I've kind of seen it from some teachers to who don't always address me as the right pronoun.”

Or doing exercises signaling them out, to which Niebuhr says the mentality has to change.

“Well this is the way we do things. Well you know we don't do that anymore, we have to be sensitive to our students,” she says.

Whether it comes to gender neutral bathroom access or nicknames, Niebuhr says as a district they are very willing to make accommodations for all students. In every building there are gender neutral bathrooms.

As for Michel, she just wants it to stop.

“You know people are entitled to their feelings about whatever in this world but you are not entitled to hurt other people,” says Michel.

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