Well frankly, I am a straight, white, Christian, cisgender male. It’s people like me that need to step up and show support for the marginalized people.
In early December, officials in the West Middlesex School District (Mercer County) announced that existing school policies on inclusion, diversity, and respect would expand to include allowing transgender and gender nonconforming students to use the facilities of their preference, while providing individual facilities for anyone who feels uncomfortable sharing any bathroom or locker room. This is similar to an expanded policy in nearby Lakeview School District announced at the end of the 2017/2018 school year.
The district has organized a public meeting for January 23 at 6 PM at the West Middlesex High School. Adult allies are asking people to show up for the meeting to support trans students in the district and the larger LGBTQ student population by a show of solidarity in numbers. A copy of the letter is at the bottom of this post. You can read more about the political status of LGBTQ neighbors in Western Pennsylvania in my recent piece for The Pittsburgh Current.
Last summer, I interviewed 16 year old Daniel, a trans male student at Lakeview about the policy (and the resistance.) I suggest you read his Q&A to get a student perspective on how things unfolded in his district.
Here, I interview Scott Malenky, a parent in the school district who supports the policy and is organizing people to support trans students at the meeting. It is not clear from his response or the online discussion how and if transgender students or adults are involved in this conversation. That may be a deliberate attempt to protect their identities. As you may recall, Mercer County has been in the news recently involving the officer involved shooting death of a transgender man, Sean Hake, in January 2017 and another non-fatal shooting incident when trans woman Claire Wolfever shot a coworker who had been bullying her in the workplace. Media coverage of both cases was deplorable and it quickly became clear that the region is lacking in transgender competent healthcare, as well as having no discrimination protections for any LGBTQ people. It is heartening to blog about positive news.
Disclosure: Ledcat grew up in West Middlesex and attended this school in the 1970’s. Her mother still lives there along with distant family members.
Another disclosure: The mascot of the West Middlesex district is The Big Reds with the logo of what is supposed to be a general Native American man wearing a headdress. I chose not to include the school logo in this post because of the offensive nature of that image and language.
Your Name: Scott Malenky
Your Age: 34
Your Pronouns: he/him
How do you describe your identity? Cisgender Male
What is your connection to West Middlesex and Mercer County? I currently reside in Shenango Township in Mercer County. Which is a part of the West Middlesex Public school district.
Please describe the West Middlesex community & school district for my readers. West Middlesex is a small borough located in southern Mercer County Pennsylvania. It is part of the Shenango Valley. West Middlesex sits on the PA/Ohio border. It has a population of only about 850 people which predominantly Christian, 97% white, and mostly middle to lower class. It is located approximately one hour north of Pittsburgh, about one hour south of Erie, and 30 minutes east of Youngstown Ohio.
Like many rural Pennsylvania counties, Mercer county is a very conservative area.
(Editor’s Note: the School District includes West Middlesex Borough, Lackawannock and Shenango Townships.)
As I understand it, the School District is following the lead of nearby Lakeview School District with regard to how they interpret existing policies. This not a new policy discussion or proposal, but a conversation how the more current interpretation will be implemented. Is that correct? When was the letter from the Superintendent sent to the student families? That is my interpretation as well. The letter informing parents was sent on December 6, 2018.
How did the School District reach this position? Are they unanimous in their support for these changes? I tried reaching out to the superintendent but was directed by the receptionist that all my questions would be answered at the public meeting on January 23rd. So until then I can not say.
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How is the local or regional transgender community involved in the leadership of the community support for the changes? What transgender led organizations are part of your group? I am the acting/interim vice-chair of the Mercer County Young Democrats, the Judge of elections for Shenango Township west, and the Democrat committeeman/ precinct Person for Shenango Township. I am also a member of the Democratic Women of Mercer County, indivisible Mercer county, and the Mercer county Democrat committee. The Pennsylvania Youth Congress and Mercer County LGBTQA+ groups have also voiced their support and are sending representatives to attend the January 23rd meeting.
There is a meeting scheduled for January 23 to discuss the policy. Is this a school board meeting, will there be public testimony or comments, etc? From what I understand this is a “special informative session” to strictly discuss the transgender restroom/locker room policy. I’m not sure if the public will be able to speak or not.
You are asking allies to the trans students to turn up in solidarity. What specifically do you hope to accomplish? What do you expect from allies? Are you reaching out to LGBTQ alumni? Unfortunately, as we saw this past summer in Lakeview, we expect a large group of parents and/or community members to be in attendance and become very vocal in their opposition to the schools bathroom policy. Our goal is to get as many people as we can to show up in support of this policy. We want to make signs thanking the administration and board for doing the right thing. We also want to show the transgender students, that this is directly effecting, that many of us love and support them. Regardless of where you live, your gender identity, or anything else we want to get as many people together to attend the meeting on January 23rd. So please, if you can, attend and tell as many people as you can about it.
What local and regional resources are available to trans and all LGBTQ students in West Middlesex and Mercer County? Does the school district or public library have a GSA? Is there a PFLAG chapter? The local PFLAG chapter is out of Youngstown Ohio but they can and will offer services to the Shenango Valley in Mercer County. I’m unaware of a GSA in West Middlesex schools but between the Mercer County Young Democrats and the Mercer County LGBTQA+. There is help and resources.
How can people who want to support the trans students and the policy, but cannot attend the meeting, show their support? If you can not attend in person, tell your friends and family about the public meeting at West Middlesex high School on January 23rd at 6:00. Try to get others to attend. You can contact the school and tell them that you applaud their decision. Or just be there for any young person who is having a hard time. Show them love and support.
Finally, why are you personally so invested in this issue? Why does it matter to you? Well frankly, I am a straight, white, Christian, cisgender male. It’s people like me that need to step up and show support for the marginalized people. But most importantly I have two young daughters. Neither is school age yet (2 and 4). And West Middlesex is my home school district. When my children go to school I want them to be in a learning environment that they won’t have to worry about discrimination.
Thank you so much for taking the time to help me promote this issue. Again I urge anyone who is able to please attend the event. On January 23rd, 2019 the West Middlesex Area School District will hold a public meeting in the high school auditorium, at 6:00pm, to discuss the plans for restroom and/or locker room usage in each building. For those of you who will be in the area and would like to show your love and support of trans youth, your attendance would be greatly appreciated. Please bring posters and signs that show your support and love. This should NOT be a confrontational event. Be Gentle. Be Kind. Be Committed to Change. Love will always win! The address to the event is 3591 Sharon Rd, West Middlesex, PA 16159. Thank you and God Bless. For those of you who are interested, we are meeting at 5:00pm before the event at the Middlesex Diner (3462 Sharon Road West Middlesex PA 16159) and heading to the school as a group.
Thank you, Scott.
I hope readers will turn out for this meeting. Please share this post (or the meeting link) with your friends and neighbors in the Shenango Valley. At the similar meeting in Lakeview School District, only one trans student – Daniel – attended accompanied only by his sister. Allies were present, but no other students spoke in favor of the policy. I hope this meeting builds on the overall success of Lakeview’s process and brings out a larger group of supporters.
Folks who are interested in starting a local GSA, PFLAG Chapter, or the process to approve nondiscrimination protections in a Mercer County municipality can reach out to statewide organizations like the Pennsylvania Youth Congress for guidance.