On May 15, CBS News/WWJ Radio in Detroit published a story about a Belleville High School transgender student who got permission from the superintendent to have his preferred name called out at graduation rather than the name on his birth certificate.
The story has had many comments on the internet from far-flung locations.
According to WWJ, Sebastian Newell assumed his male identity as a freshman and fought to graduate as Sebastian, not the name of Maura, which is on his birth certificate.
Sebastian is quoted as saying he didn’t want to participate in BHS Commencement ceremonies on May 28 at Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center under the name of Maura, which would embarrass him “in front of thousands of people.”
School Supt. Michael Van Tassel is quoted as saying the initial decision to use the name “Maura” was not about gender, but about the policy that a student must use a legal name and the district agreed to use the name “Sebastian” after getting the approval of the student’s parents.
Supt. Van Tassel told WWJ the district is discussing doing away with the tradition of separating boys and girls at the Commencement ceremony.
“The times, they are a changing – and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Van Tassel told WWJ.
Van Tassel’s executive secretary Pam Johnson said Monday that although she cannot answer a question on a specific student because of FERPA privacy laws, a student’s graduation certificate will be printed out with his or her legal name at the time of graduation.
But, Sebastian will be sitting with the boys.
There was internet chatter about Sebastian at first being denied having his preferred name called out, but on May 14, Renee Newell announced online: “Great news all!! Sebastian Newell is walking as himself!! Thank you Mr. Van Tassel and staff, teachers, family, friends? Advocates and educated people. We are proud of the peaceful way this was handled…let us not forget there are many young trans kids that do not have this kind of support. Let’s keep this ball rolling. Peace all, Renee Newell a very proud mommy.”
One internet site detailed early plans to drown out the announcer at BHS Commencement in support of Sebastian. When the announcer would try to say “Maura,” all would yell out “Sebastian Newell.”
Tooley v. Van Buren Public Schools
In a related report, a transgender law suit was filed Sept. 5 in U.S. District Court in Detroit against four school districts, including the Van Buren Public Schools.
The suit was brought by the mother of a 14-year-old transgender student who was also born as a female – Olivia — and now wishes to be a male — Seth. The student attended Owen Intermediate School and then transferred to other schools.
Kimberly Tooley, who lives in Dearborn Heights, alleges bullying and sex discrimination against her child.
A “Statement of Interest of the United States” was filed Feb. 24. This brings the U.S. Attorney General’s office and others into the case to assist the court in evaluating the claims of sex discrimination.
Among other things, Tooley’s lawsuit alleges: “A hostile environment exists in the districts and the districts’ existing policies and procedures have contributed to the hostile environment.”