The Human Rights Campaign has been profoundly influential in encouraging public schools to develop policies that protect students from any forms of discrimination or bullying– especially LGBT students. San Diego Unified School District, for example, has developed a model, Board-adopted, anti-discrimination policy that assures children a safe learning environment, regardless of their “actual or perceived” sex, gender, or ethnic group identification.
Adopting policies that prohibit discrimination in our schools is essential for children and staff. But the real work is in creating safe, inclusive, loving environments that are often the one safe haven in a community. Like El Milagro.
In “Fighting for Ms. Rios,” Aiden introduces us to Matty in the Fourth Journal: Virtuosos.
Matty was an athlete. Matty was a fierce competitor. Matty played little league. Matty played kickball. Matty wore a Baltimore Ravens football jersey. Number fifty-two. Matty always had a short-cropped haircut and was tall and thin. Matty pounded Augie behind the backstop for trying to cut to the front of the kickball line. Matty cussed and spit and told crude jokes and talked with a full mouth.
For Halloween Matty dressed up as a professional baseball player. A catcher with eye black and all the gear and the shin guards and a cup. (Madeline’s Costume)
Aiden has been playing with Matty since the beginning of the school year, but it is not until the Halloween Carnival– when the kids take a bathroom break and go into separate facilities– that he discovers she is really a girl. The other kids knew all along. Perhaps they have known her since kindergarten. Perhaps they paid attention when their teachers lined up the boys and the girls separately. Perhaps in elementary school it just doesn’t start to matter yet.
“Matty is a girl, you dumbass!” said Charlie Flowers. He stopped adjusting the crimson pirate bandana that bordered his crimson head. He paused and looked at me to see if I was serious. “She’s supposed to go into the girls’ restroom.”
Matty is a character based on several students we have served at Mueller Charter School. Even in pre-adolescent years, some children identify more with children of the opposite gender– and at that age– it is often difficult to tell them apart. Matty dressed like a boy, wore her hair like a boy, talked like a boy and behaved like a boy. Enough to confuse Aiden, who seems to blush a little, shrug his shoulders, and move on: “In any case, it just didn’t seem to matter much at the Halloween Carnival where, at least for one night, we were all hiding behind one disguise or another.”
We have seen children so insistent on behaving like a child of the opposite gender that they refuse to use the school restrooms. So we just make quiet arrangements for them to use the nurse’s restroom whenever they need to.
Aiden comments on the sensitivity and compassion of the teachers at El Milagro and we can easily imagine that the staff there has adopted policies similar to those inspired by the Human Rights Campaign. It is as if he knows, even at the age of ten, that policies don’t change attitudes and that what really matters is how children are actually treated every day.
As we walked around the carnival, I watched all of the adults interact with Matty like she was any other kid. They all knew. Her former kindergarten teacher even called her by her real name: Madeline. “You look like a pro tonight, Madeline! You look stunning!” Matty smiled.
I had a new respect for Matty and for my school. I felt proud of who we were at El Milagro—a place where kids could be who they needed to be for however long it takes to work it all out.