Transgender student wants change to Jenison bathroom policy

Student brought discrimination complaints to ACLU

Flynn Suttorp
Jenison High School student Flynn Suttorp. (May 8, 2017)

GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — At a school board meeting Monday, transgender students demanded Jenison Public Schools change its bathroom policy.

Last month, Flynn Suttorp, a transgender student, contacted the American Civil Liberties Union with complaints about discrimination at Jenison High School. Suttorp, a Jenison graduate who is also transgender and an attorney for the ACLU spoke at the Monday meeting.

“I feel very invalid, mistreated and bullied when I’m told by school administration to get over it and use the women’s bathroom if I don’t feel like missing class,” Suttorp said at the meeting.

Suttorp, a high school junior, said transgender students face a number of challenges. He said not having access to the bathroom for the gender they identify as perpetuates bullying and discrimination.

“All I want is to be treated like every other boy in school because whether I’m transgender, cisgender, I’m a boy,” Suttorp said.

The district’s current policy offers transgender students three options: They can either use a gender-neutral restroom, the bathroom that corresponds with the gender assigned to them at birth or one of three unisex staff bathrooms. But transgender students can’t use the bathroom for the gender they identify as. Suttorp said that should change.

“(District leaders are) hesitant. They’re very hesitant to change it just because of the lashback they would get from people in the community,” Suttorp said.

“What’s being asked of Jenison is not reinventing the wheel or doing something that is so out of sync in what many school districts are already doing,” Jay Kaplan, the attorney for the ACLU’s LGBT project, told 24 Hour News 8.

Suttorp is currently five months into testosterone therapy, which will continue throughout his life. He plans on undergoing reconstructive surgery after he turns 18.

“In eighth grade, I started learning more about and like educating myself on gender identity and like what it means to identify as something other than your assigned gender at birth,” Suttorp told 24 Hour News 8. “And I figured out  by the time I was a sophomore that I was not a girl, I was a boy.”

“It’s my kid. It’s the choices that he’s making. It’s his life and it’s going to be a difficult transition to say in the least, but you know there’s people fighting and battling against you in all different corners,” Scott Suttorp said.

Kaplan, the ACLU attorney, told the board that the district’s current violates federal law.

“There is a body of law, federal law that says that transgender students are protected against discrimination under Title IX that prohibits sex discrimination,” Kaplan said.

“It’s just a bathroom. There shouldn’t be this much tension over just going to the bathroom. Like you’re in there for two minutes, then you’re out,” Suttorp said.

The board did not respond to public comment.

24 Hour News 8 reached out to the Jenison Superintendent Thomas TenBrink Monday afternoon, but he was not immediately available for comment. A statement previously released by TenBrink said, in part, that the policy “does not discriminate against any student regarding any protected characteristics.”