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Michigan students fight anti-trans bias

Published Mar 3, 2011 8:31 PM

Last fall students at Mona Shores High School in Muskegon, Mich., made history by electing Oakleigh Marshall Reed homecoming king. Reed — known to his classmates as Oak — is a transgender youth. School records have him listed as female under the birth name Oakleigh Marie.

Oak’s parents, teachers and classmates all respect Oak’s gender identity, referring to the popular honors student as “he” or “him.” He marches in the band in a tuxedo and will graduate in a “boy’s” cap and gown. He plans to have gender-reassignment surgery when he turns 18.

Yet after he won the popular vote, the principal at Mona Shores High informed Oak that he could not be homecoming king because he was still registered as female. District administrators backed the principal, insisting that a king had to be biologically male.

This discriminatory act did not go unchallenged. Students launched a Facebook campaign called “Oak is My King.” They wore T-shirts to school with the same slogan. The student council opposed the principal’s decision.

Oak’s mother was furious. “He was voted for homecoming king and, according to the votes, he should have been homecoming king, and it’s just sad, and it just breaks my heart that all these people all voted and it was taken away, it was completely taken away from him.” (Metro Weekly, Sept. 27)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit on behalf of Oak.

It was announced Feb. 14 that the school administration yielded to student sentiment by agreeing that homecoming and prom elections would be gender-neutral — no more kings or queens, just the two highest vote-getters of any gender.

Mona Shores School District includes parts of Muskegon, population 40,000, and Norton Shores, population 23,000. While the more economically secure Norton Shores is 95 percent white with only 5 percent of the population in poverty, 40 percent of Muskegon’s residents are people of color. Muskegon County, population 174,000, has a poverty rate of almost 18 percent. (2010 Census)

Muskegon, founded by fur traders, grew up around the timber industry in the 1800s. Still called “lumber town,” this blue-collar community on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan is now home to many factory workers. They are employed by Alcoa, the Brunswick bowling ball company and several auto parts firms — if they are lucky enough to be working.

The victory of Oak and his classmates against bigotry is a victory for working-class unity — the kind of unity students and workers need as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder prepares to break teacher unions and destroy public education.