Kristof and Collins

In “From Caitlyn Jenner to a Brooklyn High School” Mr. Kristof says Caitlyn Jenner has started an important national conversation about transgender issues, and none too soon for these Brooklyn high schoolers.  Ms. Collins, in “Battle of the Abortion Decisions,” says it’s been a dismal stretch across the nation for a woman’s right to choose, but there is some good news from Idaho. Who knew?  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

People all over the world have been following the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner, but few as enthusiastically as Spencer and Joshua, two students at a New York City high school who see her as an inspiring role model.

Spencer, 16, was born a girl and given a girl’s name, but he says it never felt right. On the first day of kindergarten, his mom dressed him in a skirt — the school uniform — and he cried.

“That’s for the girls,” he remembers protesting tearfully.

“But you are a girl,” his mom responded, baffled.

Still, he resisted so vociferously that for the rest of the year he was allowed to wear pants rather than the girls’ uniform.

“I knew I felt different from age 4, but I didn’t have a word for it,” he remembers. “In my mind, I kept thinking, ‘Why can’t I be a boy, even though I don’t have boy parts?’ It confused me.”

In third grade, he announced he was lesbian, but he said that didn’t feel right either. Finally, at age 12, after Google searches, he found the word that fit: transgender.

That didn’t make life easier. Spencer says he was bullied and mocked in middle school, and, at 13, he tried to hang himself. But he couldn’t manage to tie the right knot or reach the ceiling fan, and he finally cried himself to sleep in frustration.

Caitlyn Jenner has started an important national conversation, but this must go beyond what she wore on the cover of Vanity Fair. Too often we as a society become distracted in transgender discussions by questions of surgery or of which restroom a person’s going to use. In fact, as Spencer’s story suggests, the fundamental challenge is simply acceptance.

I visited Spencer at his high school, the Academy for Young Writers, in a gritty neighborhood in Brooklyn. It has provided that accepting home, and it offers some lessons for other institutions across the country.

These are complex issues. When a child born a boy comes to identify as a girl, it may be humiliating or dangerous for her to use the boy’s bathroom; it may also be distressing for other girls if a classmate with male anatomy uses their bathroom. And does such a child play on the boys’ sports team, or the girls’ team?

Yet these are issues that we will have to confront. One rough estimate suggests that perhaps one-third of 1 percent of people identify as transgender. That means that in a high school of 1,000 students, a few may well be transgender.

As topics become less taboo, examples become more visible. Miley Cyrus has now been quoted as saying that she regards her sexuality and gender identification as fluid. “I don’t relate to being boy or girl,” she said.

The Academy for Young Writers became a model because of a lapse. In 2011, one of the brightest girls in school, Tiara, seemingly headed for a great university, suddenly seemed poised to drop out. It turned out that the student was now identifying as a boy calling himself Seth — and the school had been oblivious. Seth ended up barely graduating and never went to college at all.

Courtney Winkfield, the principal, resolved that this wouldn’t happen again. She brought in a teacher to mentor students with such issues and to help students craft an anti-bullying policy.

Meanwhile, Spencer showed up and asked to use the boys’ bathroom and to be referred to as “he” and “him.” The school accommodated his request.

Some parents, teachers and students were upset, but the fuss seems to have calmed. Spencer says that thoughts of suicide linger but are now manageable. The school, he says, “saved my life.”

A classmate, Joshua, 15, is still figuring out gender. He uses the male pronoun and often wears boys’ clothing, but, when I visited, he was wearing lipstick, a wig and a dress. (For a photo, he reverted to boys’ clothing.)

“I have thoughts of being female, but not every day,” Joshua said. “I don’t want to put a label on me yet.”

Joshua, who says “you can call me both genders,” recounts a history much like Spencer’s: bullying beginning in kindergarten, and thoughts of suicide starting in fifth grade.

Today, both are on the honor roll. Indeed, with summer vacation looming, they worry about losing school as a safe space.

“It’s very, very scary, summer is,” Joshua said. “I don’t want to be on my own.”

I asked Winkfield what she would say to principals leery of sensitive gender issues. High school isn’t just about getting students college-ready, she said, but also about getting them world-ready.

“It’s easy to make this a granular issue about bathrooms or sexuality,” she said. “It’s really about preparing young people for the incredibly messy and complex world we live in.”

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s been a dismal stretch for a woman’s right to choose. Not everywhere — I swear that if you stay with me there’s going to be a bright spot. But, first, I’m afraid we’re going to have to talk about Texas.

Like many states, Texas has been on a real tear when it comes to women and reproduction. The Legislature keeps piling on indignities, like mandatory pre-abortion sonograms and a script that the doctor has to read to educate the pregnant patient about her condition. Which people in the State Capitol are sure she never thought through on her own.

Texas abortion clinics, which perform a relatively simple procedure with a stupendously low history of complications, are now required to have all the staff, equipment, bells and whistles of a hospital surgical center. Lawmakers tried to describe this as a matter of health and safety, but the debate wouldn’t have fooled anybody. “How would God vote tonight if he were here?” demanded State Senator Dan Patrick. Patrick is now the lieutenant governor.

Since that law passed in 2013, clinics have been closing, even though litigation held off the full impact. The number has now dropped to 18 — for a state that is larger than France, with a population of more than 25 million.

The holdouts were waiting for the federal appeals court to save Texas from itself. But, this week, the court decided that the rules were perfectly reasonable. A three-judge panel based in New Orleans accepted the legislators’ argument that they were just trying to make sure women seeking abortions got “the highest quality of care.” These were the same lawmakers who recently wiped out federal funding for Planned Parenthood’s breast and cervical cancer screening programs.

Advocates are going back to court, but unless they win a postponement, by the end of the month, only a handful of clinics will survive.

“Abortion has happened since time began,” said Fran Hagerty, who leads the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas. “It’s not going to end. What’s going to end is for women to get care that is safe, that doesn’t put their lives at risk. That’s what’s ending. We all know that. Maybe the legislators know it, too, and they don’t care.”

Actually, safe abortions are in no danger of becoming extinct. They’re readily available to all American women who have money, and they always will be. If the Texas Legislature had been able to wave a magic wand and eliminate the option for middle-class women in their state, the outcry would have been deafening, and political suicide. But those women can go to the clinics in Dallas, San Antonio or Houston — or Chicago or Los Angeles or New York.

Poor pregnant women in anti-abortion states don’t have those options. But they’re often the most desperate, and these days some are resolving the situation with at-home abortions, using pills found on the Internet.

Recently, prosecutors in Georgia attempted to charge a 23-year-old woman with murder after pills she bought online caused her to miscarry when she was five-and-a-half months pregnant. Last year, a 39-year-old mother of three in Pennsylvania was sentenced to prison for ordering pills that her daughter took to induce a miscarriage. “I’m scared,” she told The Times’s Emily Bazelon on the night before she went to jail.

In Idaho, Jennie Linn McCormack, a mother of three, took pills she bought online after she discovered she was pregnant by a former boyfriend. “Her income was about $200 a month,” said her lawyer, Rick Hearn, who is also a doctor. “At her stage of pregnancy, it would have been $2,000 to go to Salt Lake City, which would have been the closest abortion provider. She didn’t even have a car.”

A local prosecutor charged McCormack with a felony that could have meant up to five years in prison. Fortunately, Hearn succeeded in getting the case dismissed. Then he and McCormack filed a class-action lawsuit, with Hearn acting as both lawyer and physician.

Idaho had a veritable pyramid of anti-abortion laws. This isn’t all that surprising. Idaho is the state where the Legislature at one point stampeded and killed a bill aimed at getting federal assistance to track down deadbeat dads because the lawmakers were afraid it would involve imposition of the Islamic law code Shariah.

And — here comes the bright spot — two weeks ago, a federal appeals court found that the laws that could have turned Jennie McCormack into a criminal were themselves against the Constitution.

The justices saved the state from its lawmakers — at least temporarily — by throwing out many of the state’s abortion laws, including some impossible and useless requirements the Legislature had imposed on the clinics.

And, in dismissing the charges against McCormack, Hearn noted, the court actually pointed out how hard the anti-abortion laws are on poor women. “Few people ever do that,” he said.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: