Homo / News
Trans Student Suspended from Same School in Mississippi That Canceled Prom, Later Hounded Out of Town
by Dan Savage
on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 11:19 AM
Originally posted late in the day yesterday. Reposting.
Constance McMillen wasn't the first student at Itawamba Agricultural High School to contact the ACLU this year.
Juin Baize was a student at Itawamba Agricultural—for a grand total of four hours.
Baize, his mother, and his two sisters moved to Fulton, Mississippi, from New Harmony, Indiana, to live with Baize's grandmother at the beginning of the year. (For now Baize says he prefers to use male pronouns.) Baize, age sixteen, enrolled at Itwamba Agricultural High School, where Constance McMillen was also a student. McMilllen clearly recalled Baize's first—and only—day at Itawamba Agricultural.
"People were talking about him all day, trying to get a look at him," said McMillen. "It was insane, it was ridiculous, it made me so mad. They said he was causing a distraction with what he was wearing but it was a half day of school and people didn’t have time to get used to him."
The other students wouldn't be given a chance to get used to him: the next time Baize came to school, according Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, Baize was given a suspension notice and sent home. When Juin returned to school after his first suspension, he was suspended again.
“Juin’s case was a situation where a transgender student wanted to attend school dressed in feminine clothing," said Bennett, "and the school district would not even let him attend school."
The reasons for a student's suspension are supposed to be noted on the suspension form, according to Bennett, but that part of Baize's suspension notice was left blank. So the ACLU sent a letter to the school on Baize's behalf asking the school administration for the reasoning behind his suspension—information the ACLU would need in order to challenge Baize's suspension in court.
"But the school would not talk to us about the situation," said Bennett.
Baize's suspension was written about in the local paper in February—which prompted Baize's grandmother to order her daughter and her three grandchildren to move out of her house. I spoke with Baize's mother, Beverly Bertsinger, last week. At the time she and her three children were staying in the home of a friend-of-a-friend.
“If I had the money, I would move the kids somewhere else, somewhere they would be safe,” Bertsinger told me. “I wish we could move somewhere for my son, somewhere a transgender teenager would be safe. I worry about him constantly. Everywhere he goes he goes with me.”
Baize's appearance and the fact that he, unlike Constance McMillen, was perceived as a trouble-making outsider made living in Fulton increasingly impossible. Beverly Baize couldn't find work because, she believes, Fulton is a small town and people disapproved of her son. Juin was harassed when he left the house, according to Beverly Baize, so she stopped letting him go out alone and then stopped letting him go out at all.
“I’m so afraid for him,” Bertsinger told me last week. “I support him. I buy him the clothing to wear as a female. I just want him to be safe.”
Things reached a crisis stage over the weekend when the friends-of-friends who had been putting up Bertsinger and her three children told her that Juin would have to leave. Bertsinger called some old friends who live in Pensacola, Florida, and asked if they would take Juin in. Her friends drove to Fulton the same night to pick Juin up. Bertsinger is granting temporary guardianship of her son to her friends until, she says, she can find a job and save enough money to move to Florida with her other two children.
The ACLU won't be pursuing Juin's case.
“Juin not being in Fulton makes it difficult for us to pursue any kind of legal action here,” says Bennett. "And personally, I feel it may be a better decision for Juin to relocate and move on with his life.”
Juin Baize agrees.
“There’s this thing here called Florida Virtual School,” Juin told me today, “and I’m going to enroll in that online and do that until next year. And from what I’ve heard the high school near here is very accepting. So I’m going to start fresh."
“I’m in a much better place now."
UPDATE: Folks are emailing me to ask if there's any way to help Juin out—and there is. Make a donation to help get Juin settled in Pensacola and help his mom and sisters move to Florida. I've checked into Juin's situation and I'm confident that—although his life has been chaotic—any monies donated will be spent appropriately.
[Note: We are no longer collecting donations. Thanks to everyone who pitched in!]
In '08 Sloggers helped raised more than $5,000 to pay for the funeral of Duanna Johnson, a transwoman and a victim of police brutality who was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. According to Johnson's family, half of the money raised for Johnson's funeral came from donors in Seattle after a call for donations appeared on Slog. Let's see what we can raise for a trans kid who's still alive, shall we? (Oh, and folks who want me to apologize for this: Okay, I will—after we raise at least 2K for Juin and his family. Otherwise, meh, I'll just keep hating on trans people like the raging anti-trans beegoat that I am.)