A Court of His Own: Western PA School District Denies Transgender Student Access to Homecoming King Ballot

Kasey Caron, a transgender student at Richland High School in Johnstown running for Homecoming King, is fighting his school’s decision to assign him to the female side of the ballot. The school administration has claimed that they are ‘legally unable to allow him to run as a male, because his driver’s license identifies him as being female’, which is false as his driver’s license classifies him as male. Kasey’s situation in Western Pennsylvania is nearly identical to that of Issak Wolfe, a recent graduate of Red Lion Area Senior High School, who was unable to run for Prom King this spring because he is transgender.

On the second day of his senior year, Kasey was approached by the high school guidance counselor, and asked if he wished to be listed on the male or female section of the ballot for homecoming court. He was placed on the ballot with the other males. Kasey said he felt a great deal of support from his fellow students, and that he was confident that he would be elected to the court. Before the vote took place, Kasey was called into the principal’s office. His principal claimed that after consulting their lawyers, they were legally unable to list him as male, and he would be reassigned to the female side of the ballot.

While Kasey is legally classified as female, there is no Pennsylvania law determining how students are to be grouped for social events. However, it is legal for school districts to enforce arbitrary rules governing the gender identity of the participants, as there are no legal protections for transgender students in Pennsylvania.

Kasey was elected to the homecoming court as a female, and was told by administrators that due to his “unique situation” he was to take his own date who is not on the court with him as his escort, rather than being paired with one of the males on the court. While the administrators classified him as female, they felt uncomfortable with a masculine presenting transgender student arriving with a male date to Homecoming.

In protest, the Student Council President of neighboring Westmont Hilltop High School, Josh Livingston, and council member, Abby Panek, extended an invitation to Kasey to have an honorary position on their Homecoming Court, but the Westmont administration did not approve of the plan.

Kasey is speaking at the Richland School District Board meeting on Monday night. Those attending to support him are being asked to wear blue. Kasey’s family anticipates that approximately 200 people will be in attendance, more than he initially expected. Kasey intends on proposing to the board that he be moved to the male side of the ballot, and to add two females to the court – one as his escort, and one to replace his spot, so no one voted onto the court would be removed. He also plans on asking to wear the male’s blue cap and gown at graduation, and to be seated on the male side of the stage.

Kasey said he feels positive about the School Board meeting, stating that he believes the board will have a “change of heart.” He estimates that 90% of his classmates are in agreement with him, and says he has heard no complaints about his plan to run for Homecoming King. “My biggest worry,” Kasey said, “is that they won’t give me a direct answer.”

Issak Wolfe also testified before his school board in order to appeal his principal’s decision, but his requests were largely denied. In reaction to learning about Kasey’s experience, he said “It’s disgraceful that a school district would have the audacity to do this again to someone else, Further, he said, “Kasey is going to have a chance to blow this out of the water. I think he has a definite chance at winning, and he certainly deserves it.”

Kasey feels that he has a large amount of support, from both his fellow classmates and the faculty at Richland. “The people in my class know me personally, and they’ve seen what I’ve gone through and how it’s changed me, and they respect me.”

From the time he entered the eighth grade, Kasey has been an active member of the Jonhstown LGBT community. He first began assisting with the organization of the Day of Silence at his school. After the original organizer graduated, Kasey took up the cause and has organized the event every year since. In conjunction with the Day of Silence, Kasey formed a petition to have sexual orientation and gender identity listed as protected classes in the school bullying policy, after a friend of his was physically assaulted. Since then, the school has reverted to an unenumerated policy, which lists no specific characteristics. However, Kasey said that to his knowledge, the new policy has been enforced in incidents dealing with sexuality and gender identity. The Richland School District has an equal access to school and classroom activities inclusive of sexual orientation, but not of gender identity.

Together, Kasey and his mother, Kathy, organized a Facebook community for local residents called “Remember ‘It Gets Better’- Living Proof,” to connect local LGBTQ residents and support each other.

Before graduating, Kasey hopes to form a Gay Straight Alliance at Richland High School. He is in the early planning stages, and plans to take further action after the Homecoming decision is dealt with. “I think having a GSA will be very, very useful for future students.”

Faith Elmes, Assistant Convener of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition Coordinating Committee, and President of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Pride Alliance, said, “PSEC is in full support of Kasey’s fight to have his school district extend equal opportunity for all students, regardless of gender identity, and ask they pledge to do better in promoting a school community that provides dignity for all students.”

9/10/2013: This post was updated to further clarify that it was the school district claiming Kasey’s driver’s license was female, which is incorrect as his driver’s license identifies him has male.

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