CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Local school districts have not had a chance to adopt a brand new policy addressing transgender students in schools published by The National Education Association and other organizations designed to create safer and more inclusive classrooms.
Local school districts have taken weeks to answer questions about what policies do exist here.
"I had known since I was in the third grade I was a boy, and that's when we lived in Illinois," said Jay, a local high school student.
Jay and five other transgender teens share many issues in common, despite the fact they go to schools in three different counties and different school districts. Jay says it took him a while to figure out what "transgender" meant. He was in the fifth grade, when there was a lot of buzz about the pregnant man.
"So I asked my parents, and they explained what transgender was, and I was like, 'Oh that's a thing, I'm not just some tomboy that really, really wants to
be a boy,'" he said.
As transgender students, these six teens don't identify with their birth gender.
"I was really scared cause even coming out to my parents who I knew would be supportive, or coming out to my friends, it's scary because you don't know what to expect," said Charlie, who is a high school student. He said things are going well in high school, but believes if he'd come out in middle school, it would have been very different.
"The staff is just kind of like, 'What do we do, so they just stick to what they know and they don't know much,'" Charlie said.
Middle schooler Gabriel can vouch for that. His mom says Gabriel's privacy was violated after he confided with adults at school.
"His group of friends found out about it before he could have the opportunity to tell them," Sara, Gabriel's mom said. That's not acceptable, she says, because he should have told his friends when he was ready.
"Most of my friends have been really supportive and I think they kind of saw it coming from even before I even realized it," Gabriel said.
Many of these kids say middle school is already a scary and emotional place. Then, add the stress of coming out.
Luke's mom says a counselor told him not to come out in middle school. His first day of high school, he wore a "HE" shirt.
"I wasn't afraid at the time," he said. "I just felt like I needed to be heard."
Luke said he tried to start a support group in middle school, but met too many obstacles.
Sabian met more success, helping found a support group at his high school. The decision to come out to family and friends is daunting, so school and community groups give these kids support they need. "I was terrified that everyone we know would be looking and me and being mean to me but everything went fine," Sabian said.
Transitioning in school around people they've known for a while is the hardest, Sera, another high school student explained, "because people watch you change and they think of you as just the weird kid who was a boy last week or a girl last week and now you're wearing different clothes and have a different hairstyle."
Sera transferred out of a school, saying it was too much of a fight. Then she told her new friends she is transgender.
"They were like, it's fine, nothing's different now, you're still the same person to me," she said.
Several parents came to support their teens as they sat for their interviews. They said they want to protect their kids.
"That's why I think it's important for set policies to be in place, so it's not a come, handle as it comes basis," Gabriel's mom said.
Policies, experts say, are needed at every level of the school system.
"Gender identity starts developing the minute a child starts a personality. anyone who comes into contact with students K-12 ought to have training," said Melissa Moore of the organization, "We Are Family."
Several weeks went by before the Charleston County School District stated its policy regarding transgender students.
"The Charleston County School District strives to maintain a safe and supportive learning and educational environment that respects and values all students
within the school community," CCSD spokesman Daniel Head said. "This is spelled out clearly in district policy: Every student shall have equal educational opportunities regardless of ethic or racial background, religious beliefs, sex, gender preference, disability, immigr ant status or English-speaking status, economic or social conditions. School administrators work closely with parents to address concerns and to develop viable solutions and accommodations that work for everyone involved."
Dorchester District Two spokesperson Pat Raynor responded immediately:
"Our district does not have a policy regarding transgender students," Dorchester District Two spokesperson Pat Raynor said. "As there is always staff development occurring within the district, there has been training for administrators and teachers in supporting students and families that have a variety of unique needs. Services and support for students that are transgender are on an individual basis depending on the needs of that student."
The response from Dorchester District Four referenced dress code, so we asked for clarification.
Berkeley County School District spokesperson Aimee Murray said the BCSD respects the gender identity of all students.
"With regards to specific accommodations or modifications, the district makes individual determinations based on a student's needs consistent with policy law and regulations," she said.
Click here to download the policy: https://www.genderspectrum.org/staging/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Schools-in-Transition-2015.pdf