By Sharanya Gopinathan
An 8-year-old Indian-origin transgender girl and her parents are suing her former school in Orange County, California, for preventing the girl from expressing her gender identity. The girl’s name is Nicole Brar, and she’s chosen to go public with her fight because she feels so strongly about her fight for the right to education without discrimination. Her parents are saying that the school violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act case (a piece of California legislation that “specifically outlaws discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, medical condition, or marital status”), making this “the first [transgender rights] case to use a state anti-discrimination law as one of the grounds for relief.”
Nikki’s struggle has been a long one. Assigned male at birth, by age 4, she told her parents that she wanted to be a girl, and said things like that boys clothes felt like a prison to her. Her parents enrolled her in Heritage Oak school because it claimed to have a policy of non-discrimination, and also because they taught students at an advanced level: they assumed she would be happy there because she would be challenged and engaged academically, and be able to flourish in a non-discriminatory environment.
Except Oakwood deferred an official decision on how they would choose to treat Nikki, refused to let her use the girls’ restrooms, and continued to refer to her as “he”. The only immediate concession they made was to allow her to grow her hair, which isn’t really much of a concession at all. They later said that the school was a “conservative institution” and that meeting their other demands would “cause an imbalance”.
The school’s lack of action and sensitivity in Nikki’s case of course led to other students bullying her. She was called a loser, found herself sitting alone at recess and lunch times, and both boys and girls wouldn’t play with her. The eight-year-old apparently once heard a radio message about suicide, and asked her parents if she could “suicide herself” because “life is really hard”.
Can you imagine hearing that from your child? There are plenty of sophisticated arguments to be made in favour of referring to transpeople by the pronouns that they prefer, for letting people dress however they want and identify with whichever or no gender according to how they feel about themselves, for letting people use whichever bathroom they feel like using, but when you’re hearing a child tell you that they want to kill themselves because their eight-year-old lives are hard because they can’t choose how to express themselves, you don’t really need to hear anything else.
And it really can get that urgent. Issues like this, particularly when involving children, need to be handled with immediacy and sensitivity. Statistics reveal that transpeople are 22 times more likely to commit suicide than cis-gendered people, and it’s particularly alarming when it comes to young transpeople (one study says that almost half of trans students in the UK have attempted suicide).
Nikki is set to change schools and has been taken out of Oakwood by her parents.
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