Transgender students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools held a rally at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center before speaking on inclusive policy requests at the school board's Tuesday evening meeting.
Transgender students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools held a rally at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center before speaking on inclusive policy requests at the school board’s Tuesday evening meeting.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Several transgender students attending Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools asked the local school board Tuesday evening to adopt more inclusive policies and practices to keep them safer during school days. At the top of the list of requests are policies outlining students’ rights to use preferred names and gender pronouns, as well as more nuanced policies addressing issues like inclusive restroom and locker room access. Students also want greater enforcement of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies already on the books.

Four students addressed the board directly, accompanied by two dozen other students, young people and other supporters who gathered for a small rally outside the government center before the meeting.

“CMS does a lot against bullying,” Northwest School of the Arts student Christy Verhaagen told the school board. “Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, but CMS isn’t doing enough to protect a very vulnerable part of its students — transgender students.”

Contessa Cuellar, a Northwest senior, said she has worked to ensure transgender students can be called their preferred name and pronouns.

“My birth name is the name that is on every school record,” Cuellar said. “There is no where [on those records] for preferred names or pronouns. That means every time a teacher calls my name for attendance, I feel uncomfortable.”

Cuellar told the school board she felt lucky to be able to speak directly to her principal about the issue. At her school the policy has changed.

“I had to speak to my school’s principal to have my name and pronouns respected, but I fear other students in CMS would have been as respected,” Cuellar said.

CMS student Kaleb also spoke to the board, but opted not to share his last name or his school, saying it would be too dangerous for him personally. He told the board other students face even greater challenges.

“I am but one of countless transgender students in our public school system, some too afraid to show their faces here today due to the discrimination they face,” Kaleb said.

Student Brett, a senior at a south Charlotte high school, also told the board that going to school can be a “scary experience” for transgender students. At a rally before the meeting, Brett, who identifies as female, said past treatment of transgender students informed Brett’s decision to stay closeted to all but a few friends.

“I made that decision based on my friend asking if they could go by their preferred name and pronouns, which to that they were met with invasive questions by teachers and disciplinary action based on them trying to be who they are as a person and identify comfortably in their environment,” Brett said. “Based on the abuse that I’ve witnessed firsthand with my very close friend, I made the decision to come out only to a select few people.”

Brett said respect for transgender students remains at “an all-time low” and said the school system has a responsibility to act.

“They need to recognize that not only are we here but we aren’t going anywhere,” Brett said. “You will continue to see people like us walk through the halls of your school each and every day and those kids are coming into that school with a target on their back. The school system is doing nothing to make that target any less easier to hit or miss.”

Concerns over the needs of transgender students have also been raised recently at another local educational institution. Officials at Central Piedmont Community College say they are now working to meet with LGBT community organizations and their students to chart a course for more inclusive policies and practices after a transgender student alleged she was harassed and detained by campus security and later discriminated against by school officials when she attempted to file a complaint.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.