Pennsylvania youth in solidarity with York County transgender student

Pennsylvania youth in solidarity with York County transgender student following a week of intimidation by school administration

Issak Wolfe and his girlfriend given green light to attend prom tomorrow

Issak Oliver Wolfe, a transgender student at Red Lion Area Senior High School in York County, was in the running last week for prom king with the support of many of his classmates. When the ballots were distributed, Issak was listed under his former female name, on the prom queen side of the ballot. When Issak’s father spoke with Red Lion Area Senior High School Principal, Mark Shue, about the ballot, Shue stated that he felt “uncomfortable,” about the prospect of listing Issak as a male. All this despite months of approval from the Executive Council of students and several school staff.

Issak’s story has sent shockwaves throughout the Pennsylvania LGBT youth community and across the nation. Caden Krawchuk, a transgender student at nearby Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School in Cumberland County, commented on Principal Shue’s unilateral decision. “I was disappointed in the principal’s actions in taking Issak off the prom king ballot because he felt ‘uncomfortable’. Being transgender in high school, [many of us] feel uncomfortable every day.”

Soon after the incident, Issak’s friends and family took to social media to share his story. Issak’s sister, Cheyenne Stambaugh, created a petition on which has received over 4,000 signatures, asking for the school to allow Issak to run for prom king, and that his correct male name be read at graduation. His girlfriend, Taylor Thomas, wrote a message which was posted on  the popular Have a Gay Day Facebook page, asking readers to contact the school in support of Issak.

The Red Lion School Area District accused Taylor of libel and threatened to ban her from attending the prom in an attempt to silence their story. Issak was presented with a scripted statement to give in the event he was contacted by the media, which he refused.

Upon being directly intimidated by his school Principal, Issak first connected with the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, who immediately contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. He and Taylor, a graduate of Red Lion Area School District, are now being represented by the ACLU.

The ACLU presented the school district with a formal letter asking that the school district issue an apology to Issak, as well as an assurance that Issak’s male name will be read at graduation, and that he will be allowed to wear a black gown along with other male students. The letter stated that Red Lion Area Senior High School would be in violation of the first amendment if they pursued disciplinary or legal action against Issak and his girlfriend for posting his story online, and that forcing Issak to run for prom queen and wear a yellow females graduation gown is sex stereotyping in violation of Title IX.

The York Daily Record published an editorial in support of Issak, saying,

Once upon a time in the land of Red Lion…

No, this isn’t a fairy tale, but it is a story about kings and queens – of the prom….

Did school administrators’ discomfort really require stepping in and transforming a he back into a she – for something as inconsequential as a prom court ballot?

Could the officials not simply let the students choose? It’s their ball, after all. They were under no obligation to vote for a transgender king.

Could school leaders not see the importance to that individual simply to feel the freedom – and courage – to place himself on the ballot that reflected who he knows himself to be?

Some day – perhaps even in the not-too-distant future – we’ll look back on these kinds of stories as we do on fairy tales, reflecting a world that no longer exists, utterly transformed into a world where we are all free to be who we are.

The ACLU has just reported on Friday afternoon that the Red Lion Area School District has responded to their letter, and have agreed to allow Issak and his girlfriend to attend prom on Saturday evening. They have yet to provide a definitive response as to whether Issak’s male name will be read at graduation, along with allowing him to wear the males’ gown.

PSEC Executive Director Jason Landau Goodman, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, said “Issak and Taylor have been truly brave in coming forward to share their story and fight back against bigotry. Discrimination and harassment against LGBT students by school administrators is unfortunately a regular occurrence across Pennsylvania, as we do not have an inclusive nondiscrimination law in our state. Thousands of Pennsylvania students are in solidarity with Issak and Taylor – and wish them all the best tomorrow night at the prom. In pressing for nondiscrimination legislation to be adopted, PSEC will continue to call out bigotry and ignorance against students. We must provide equal access in our schools so that all Pennsylvania students have the opportunity to find their happily ever after.”

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