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ACLU warns Red Lion Principal who removed transgender student from prom king ballot

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter Friday on behalf of a male transgender student who was denied the chance to run for prom king when his principal placed his female birth name in the column for “Prom Queen” against his wishes.

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A transgender Red Lion student speaking out against his birth name being read at graduation.  Isaak Wolfe, who was born a girl, is working on getting his name legally changed. But, the school refuses to read it that way at the ceremony.  Wolfe , preparing a statement, and along with friends, family, and a petition of 2,000 signatures  came to Thursday night’s school board meeting to speak about the issue.
“ Reading my male name at graduation wouldn’t hurt anyone. Reading my female name would hurt me immensely. Is it more important to push around a teenage then it is to make the school a safe place for students?,” says Isaak Wolfe

The board didn’t make a decision Thursday. The school district’s solicitor says had Wolfe already gotten his name legally changed, this wouldn’t be an issue.

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Red Lion Area School District says a transgender student can wear a black cap and gown for graduation, the colors worn by male students, but his birth name will be read in the ceremony. Last month, FOX43 News brought you the story of Isaak Wolfe, who was born Sierra Liberty Stambaugh, who wanted to run for prom king. When the school refused and entered Isaak in the running for prom queen, under his female birth name, he went public with his story and enlisted the help of the ACLU. Isaak and his date were allowed to attend prom, but not be in the running for prom king.

“I am really disappointed that the school district doesn’t want to do anything to protect transgender students,” said Wolfe, a senior at Red Lion Area High School. “I want to make sure that future transgender students are not humiliated and disrespected the way I was.”

Wolfe has gone by Isaak since the summer before his junior year of high school, and his family, friends and most of his teachers call him by that name. Wolfe, who just turned 18 a few weeks ago, plans to legally change his name but that process, which involves a court hearing, cannot be completed in time for graduation next month.

“There is absolutely no legitimate reason for the school to refuse to read Isaak’s male name at graduation,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Their failure to do so shows the same lack of sensitivity they exhibited during Isaak’s attempt to run for prom king and knowingly mars what should be a happy occasion for Isaak and his family.”

Wolfe plans to take his case to the RLASD school board at their next meeting on Thursday, May 16.

The ACLU released an update Friday afternoon to an ongoing dispute between the Red Lion Area School District and transgender student Issak Wolfe. The statement reads in full:

In an update to an earlier release, Red Lion Area School District informed the ACLU and ACLU of Pennsylvania that transgender student Issak Wolfe and his girlfriend, Taylor Thomas, will be allowed to attend prom this Saturday. Red Lion Area Senior High School Principal Mark Shue had threatened to bar Thomas, an alumna of the school, from attending after she criticized Shue online. The criticism stemmed from Shue denying Wolfe a chance to be prom king by placing him on the ballot under his female birth name in the column for “Prom Queen” despite repeated requests to be listed under his correct gender identity.

The Red Lion Area School District is working with the ACLU and ACLU of Pennsylvania to resolve the remaining issues identified in their original letter to the school district.

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The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter today on behalf of a male transgender student who was denied the chance to run for prom king when his principal placed his female birth name in the column for “Prom Queen” despite repeated requests to be listed under his correct gender identity.

Principal Mark Shue of Red Lion Area Senior High School also threatened to bar Issak Wolfe from attending prom with his girlfriend, who is an alumnus of the school, after she posted statements and a petition online supporting Wolfe. The prom is scheduled for this Saturday, April 27.

“I never had an issue with my school about accepting me for who I am, so I was shocked and humiliated when the ballots came out and they had me listed as the wrong gender,” said Wolfe, an 18-year-old senior. “To do that with no warning, and then try to intimidate us into keeping quiet, is degrading and hurtful.”

Wolfe has been going by Issak since his junior year of high school, and his teachers and friends call him by that name. He approached school faculty several times in the weeks prior to prom and was assured he’d be listed as Issak on the ballot for prom king. After the fact, he was told that the principal “wasn’t comfortable” listing him as a candidate for king, and had the listing changed to the prom queen side of the ballot without warning.

When Wolfe’s girlfriend, Taylor Thomas, posted a message on Facebook and created an online petition supporting him, Shue called Wolfe into his office and threatened to prevent him from bringing her to prom unless she changed the posts. Shue also wrote a scripted press statement that he then pressured Wolfe to give to media. After Thomas’s online posts were changed, Shue continued to threaten to bar her from attending until Wolfe said he was contacting the ACLU.

Shue declined to say whether or not Wolfe’s male name will be read at graduation, as he has repeatedly requested.

“Issak is accepted by his family, teachers, and peers for who he is,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “He had no reason to expect to be treated differently by school officials, and Shue’s efforts to silence Issak and Taylor and suppress their First Amendment rights are completely inappropriate and unconstitutional.”

Wolfe is seeking an apology from Shue and a promise that future students will be allowed to run for prom king or queen in accordance with their gender identity as well as assurance that he will be able to attend the prom with his girlfriend.  The ACLU is also demanding that the school agree by Friday, May 3, that Wolfe will be able to attend graduation wearing a black cap and gown for boys, as opposed to the yellow cap and gown mandated for girls, and have his male name read at the ceremony.

“Placing Issak on the ballot under ‘prom queen’ was a petty and mean-spirited decision that served no purpose other than to humiliate him in front of the rest of the school community,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.  “Schools should be fostering an inclusive environment where all students are allowed to be themselves instead of needlessly making students feel stigmatized for being who they are.”

The letter can be seen at: http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/redlionareaschooldistrict.htm

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