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Mother files complaint aimed at helping school district support transgender students

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BOULDER, Colo. -- This summer Boulder Valley School District will be extending staff training to better support transgender and gender questioning students all the way down to elementary schools.

The move comes in response to a local mother who filed a federal civil rights complaint after her children encountered problems at Creekside Elementary.

As a parent, Kai McKenzie admits it took years to understand what it meant to raise a transgender child. Kai’s oldest, Elsa, was assigned male at birth but began rejecting that identity at just two years old.

“When I told her she was a boy she just screamed, ’No!’” Kai said. “I still didn’t get it.”

During the next six years, Kai says Elsa continually drew self portraits of herself as a girl and dressed that way when she was allowed to. Kai says Elsa eventually refused to go to the bathroom and, at 8 years old, began showing signs of physical sickness when gender conversations came up.

“She started increasingly just breaking down any time anyone called her a boy. I mean, just collapsing and sobbing,” Kai said. “She came to me and said, ‘If I’m a boy, why is there no one like me? There must be something wrong with me. I wish I didn’t exist.’ And those words. Those words are a wake-up call to any parent.”

Kai’s wake-up call happened a year ago. The family fully embraced Elsa as a girl. At the same time, 8-year-old Sky decided not to select a gender, also referred to as gender queer.

“Sky was assigned male at birth but is increasingly saying, ‘Don’t use those male pronouns on me. I haven’t figured this stuff out yet,’” Kai said.

That explanation wasn’t easily understood when the siblings enrolled at Creekside Elementary in February.

“The children started teasing both Elsa and Sky about that because no adult was actually standing up and saying, ‘This is gender queer. This is what it means. It’s in the middle. It’s beautiful,’” Kaid said. “The children didn’t know.”

Kai tried working with the school, writing a children’s story about gender issues in hopes of educating the students. The lesson was denied.

“For us the experience was, ‘Oh, you’re not really welcome here. We don’t want your story,’” Kai said. “In fact, Elsa’s teacher told me in an email, ‘We don’t teach about transgender identity in second grade.'”

That’s when Kai decided to file a federal civil rights complaint against the district, alleging, "it doesn’t adequately protect the rights and integrity of its gender fluid and transgender children."

“As soon as I put in that complaint (the district) found the funding in two days to train staff,” McKenzie said.

Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger confirms that staff members will now receive better training this summer in order to help support transgender students and educate classmates. The training won’t just be taking place at Creekside Elementary.

“With the number of employees we have and the number of schools, we probably have varying levels of comfort and understanding around the issues,” Messinger said. “We want to make sure everyone, all of our staff, have the right level of support.”

Kai and other community groups are helping develop that training.

“I really want to help the district and help teachers understand how they can bring this in and how beautiful it is,” Kai said. “How it’s going to help all children.”

The Office of Civil Rights has not yet decided whether to move forward with the complaint against the district, but Boulder Valley Schools vows to move forward with the additional training regardless.

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