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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Transgender Teachers Growing In Numbers
by The Associated Press

(Tuckerton, New Jersey) For nine years, he was Mr. McBeth, a substitute teacher who kept things moving along in the classroom and filled in ably when the regular teacher was out sick.

And then one September, he was Miss McBeth.

The sex-change operation William McBeth underwent in 2005 roiled this rural, conservative area when she applied to be rehired as a substitute in Eagleswood Township. Parents packed a school board meeting last winter, some decrying what they termed an experiment, with their young children as guinea pigs; others supported her right to be who she is and work at what she does best.

But then a strange thing happened a few months later: When McBeth was up for a job at a different school in the area, no one protested. In fact, no one voiced an opinion at all when she was hired.

``There's no doubt about it; they've calmed down,'' said McBeth, a retired marketing executive and divorced parent of three.

``There's no reason I shouldn't teach,'' said McBeth. ``Look at me as a person: Am I qualified to teach? Yes. Do I have experience? Yes. Do I have a good report card from the schools? Yes. I have nothing to hide, and I'm proud of who I am.''

About 20 transgender teachers are working in classrooms across the country, but more are in the process of ``transitioning,'' experts estimate. That opens up a host of issues the teachers - and their employers and students - have to deal with.

``The question often arises: Are transgender people competent to be employees, and those questions can come from co-workers, management or students,'' said Chris Daley, director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco. ``A lot of that is because there is a lack of information about who transgender people are.''

David Nielsen, a librarian at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, began living as a woman in the spring of 1998 and came to school one Monday as Debra Davis. She was sued by a co-worker who objected to her using the women's restroom. The claim eventually was rejected by an appeals court, but not before local police got involved.

``I had a sex crimes detective in my building investigating me,'' she said.

Part of the difficulty was the suddenness of Davis' transformation.

``As far as I knew and as far as the school knew, I was among the first people to suddenly do that in a high school who worked directly with children, basically over a weekend,'' Davis said. ``I didn't take a year off, I didn't do it over the summer. Literally, a man left on Friday and a woman came back on Monday.''

She met with school officials and staff, and again with students to answer any questions they had.

``They asked, `What do we call this person?' It's Miss Davis now, it's Debra,'' she recalled. ``It's `she' now. `What bathroom is she going to use?' The kids did pretty well. Did they come to the library to see their new, improved librarian? You bet they did!''

The students were great, she said. Some festooned the hallways with signs of support, including one with the slogan Hate Is Not A Family Value.

Not every adult was as welcoming, though.

``The people who struggled were people who struggle with diversity,'' she said. They were concerned that ``the kids would have to have contact with someone like me who's an abomination of God.''

For 72-year-old William McBeth, he had the feeling he was different from the age of seven. Growing up in Atlantic City, N.J., he would sneak into the closet to try on his mother's and aunt's clothes when no one was around, and wasn't quite sure why.

``You had these feelings that you didn't clearly recognize,'' she said. ``You knew you were different, and you knew these were thoughts you couldn't bring up to anybody. I lived that life in fear. I did everything I could: I was a Boy Scout, a surfer, I was in the military. I ran a ski lodge in Alaska. I had a magnificent life.

``But you're living under the fear that someone would find out about you,'' McBeth said. ``You know they wouldn't understand; I didn't understand it. It wasn't until middle age that I knew there were other people like me.''

In 2003, while hospitalized for a heart condition, McBeth did some soul-searching...

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