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Discovering Emma: A kindergartner's transgender journey

It isn't until puberty that parents and their transgender children must consider medical interventions such as hormone blockers. At such a young age, Emma's transition is purely social.

The family has a photo of Emma and her brother sitting together on their front porch holding a pink and blue sign that says "first day of kindergarten Emma smiles a toothy grin at the camera. She dresses in pink leggings, a yellow T-shirt and silver, glittery shoes with pink laces. She couldn't wait for the school year to begin, her mother recalled. Emma came home from her first day of school crying, Amy said.

She said her teacher told her she had boy hair and a boy body. The child was enrolled in kindergarten under "Colton," the name on her birth certificate, but the parents said their daughter made it clear she was a girl and she wanted to be called "Emma. The tears were back on day two, after Emma said her teacher told her in front of the class that she had to use the boys' bathroom, essentially outing her as transgender, Amy said. Emma came home and said, "'Now, everyone knows I'm not a girl on the outside,'" the mother recalled. Emma was embarrassed using the boys' bathroom while wearing skirts and said the kids were asking her "so many questions," Amy said.

The parents started communicating with the school counselor that first week. Amy wrote her a letter Aug. Yet, things got so bad at the school of students that the family requested a new teacher. Emma switched classes just months into the school year. The first teacher would single her out in front of the other students and make her use the bathroom located in the classroom before heading to another location at the school, her mother said. Emma was told that if she wouldn't use the boys' restroom, she could only use single-stall facilities, said Amy.

The main building at Glen Arden Elementary is 78, square feet. There are four single-stall restrooms available for students and 10 multistall bathrooms. Just weeks into the school year, Emma came home with urine-soaked clothes in her backpack, her mother said. She told her parents that she did not want to use the boys' bathroom in gym class anymore and wasn't able to hold it, Amy said. The parents requested a meeting with the principal. There, they said, the administrator kept asking them why they were buying "him" girl clothes and brought up North Carolina House Bill 2.


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The N. The now-repealed law said, among other things, that people must use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificate.

E — Every child is motivated in a different way

Specht said it was best if Emma would only use the classroom bathroom that is a single-stall, the mother said. They were worried Emma might expose herself to the other girls at school, she added. Amy and Kevin worried that Emma might sometimes be in the hallway, the gymnasium, the cafeteria or some other multipurpose room and need a restroom, they said. Also, after kindergarten, there are few classrooms at the school with single-stall bathrooms. The parents say a teacher told them not to be concerned.


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Emma will likely grow out of this "nonsense," they recall the staff member saying. The nonprofit organization was referred to the family when the mother sought help online. The school staff was defensive, Amy said. They offered Emma a counselor who "specializes more in those types of cases," she said. In March, Emma urinated on herself again at school. She was in the lunchroom and said her teacher told her to "hold it," her mother said. Emma didn't eat her lunch that day and sat in her soaked clothes until an adult noticed, Amy said.

School staff had Emma walk back to the kindergarten room at the opposite end of the school to change, her mother added. Nearly one week later when Amy came to the school to have lunch with her children, she noticed the single-stall bathrooms in the cafeteria were locked. I have also reminded the custodians that those need to be unlocked every day. Buncombe County Schools strives to support and accommodate its transgender students by recognizing that each person is their own individual with unique needs, Thompson said. The cafeteria bathrooms should have never been locked at Glen Arden, Thompson said.

Emma's Story

HB2 also would not normally be part of the conversation about transgender student bathroom use, he continued. Despite changing state and federal priorities, Buncombe County Schools has always kept its focus on the individual child, he said. There will always be students within any large school that are very accepting and understanding and others who are not, he said. To avoid a transgender student feeling singled out, the challenge is to create a bathroom routine that is the same for everybody, he said.

That could mean students use the hall restroom two at a time or they only use a classroom bathroom, Thompson said. Buncombe County's school board doesn't have a policy specifically protecting transgender students or clarifying what bathrooms they can use. The district has, however, adopted polices protecting all students against discrimination, sexual harassment, violence and bullying. Staff at Glen Arden and six other schools received the training May 1. There are also more student-led support groups such as Gay Straight Alliances, he said.

A child’s lead

Again, we take these situations very individually. Not-So-Weird Emma. Now the entire third grade is trading nicknames. And while it starts out being funny, emma begins to see the downside of name-calling. Only Emma. When four-year-old Anthony Scarpetto moves in for a week while his parents are away, Emma is not happy. Emma has started at a new school, and has finally begun to make friends. But how can she invite anyone over when annoying Anthony is there?

Emma is in for a surprise, though. Share: Share on Facebook. Emma Series: Related Titles. About Sally Warner. More about Sally Warner. About Jamie Harper.