School officials agree to refer to teen with female name, pronouns; teen agrees to forgo long wigs, high heels
The BS at school is over for Rochelle Evans, according to her attorneys.
Rochelle, a 15-year-old transgender girl formerly known as Rodney, was suspended for three days from Fort Worth’s Eastern Hills High School on Thursday, April 26. Rochelle said school officials told her the punishment was for saying “bullshit” during an emotional conversation with a friend after an assistant principal demanded that she remove a wig and high heels.
But she returned to school Thursday, May 3, after reaching an agreement with the Fort Worth Independent School District that will allow her to be identified as Rochelle and with feminine pronouns, her attorneys said. She will also be allowed to use a single-stall bathroom in the nurse’s office rather than a boy’s or girl’s room.
The agreement came during a meeting Wednesday, May 2, attended by Rochelle; her mother, Lenora Flores; her two pro bono attorneys, Phyllis Frye and Jerry Simoneaux Jr. of Houston; and three district officials, including the principal of the school.
“It was definitely worth it definitely, definitely, definitely because I finally get to be me,” Rochelle told a contingent of news reporters outside district offices after the meeting.
Simoneaux said he was “very, very happy.”
“This is a win for everybody,” he said. “This is a win for my client, Rochelle. It is also a big win for the Fort Worth school district.”
In a statement issued shortly after the meeting, the district referred to Rochelle as Rodney; said her suspension had nothing to do with dress code violations; and said the issue could have been resolved much sooner and without the involvement of attorneys.
“We find it disheartening that anyone would use this situation or any of our students in any way for their own personal or professional agendas,” the statement read.
Frye, a noted transgender activist, brushed off the statement Thursday, saying she believes it was written prior to the meeting and had nothing to do with the outcome.
“We stand by the positive message that we felt was conveyed to us on Wednesday,” Frye said.
District spokeswoman Barbara Griffith, who wrote the statement, admitted Thursday she may not have “been in full communication” with district officials who attended the meeting. Griffith confirmed that Rochelle would be allowed to use the nurse’s bathroom, but declined to comment further for privacy reasons.
“I’m just going to let the statement speak for itself,” Griffith said.
“If they seemed happy with the way things worked out, then that’s great. I’m not here to tell our side of the story.”
In addition to the suspension, Rochelle was charged with class-C misdemeanor disorderly conduct. According to Simoneux, district officials said during the meeting they have no authority to drop the charge because it was filed by the Fort Worth Police Department.
To avoid further problems such as retaliation against her client from school officials for “dragging them through the mud” and a possible expensive lawsuit Frye said she advised Rochelle during the meeting to wear flat shoes to school and avoid wigs, although continuing to identify as a girl.
“Our tone was to try to present to them [district officials] with alternatives,” Frye said.
Rochelle and her attorneys said district officials cited cutting classes and poor grades as part of the reason behind the suspension. But Rochelle said those problems stemmed from her coming to grips with being transgender in the face of harassment from school officials.
“It was my way of dealing with it,” she told the Voice during an exclusive interview at Agape Metropolitan Community Church after the meeting.
Coincidentally, Rochelle had just signed up for Saturday sessions to make up for missed classes when the latest brouhaha began. After signing up in an assistant principal’s office wearing high heels and a wig she returned to class but soon was summoned back.
The assistant principal, claiming that Rochelle’s outfit was disruptive to the school environment, demanded that she remove the wig and high heels, Rochelle said. After calling her mother, Rochelle agreed to take off the high heels but not the wig. The assistant principal then told Rochelle she was suspended for three days for refusing to follow orders and told her to wait in the hallway.
There, sobbing, Rochelle said she encountered a friend and unleashed.
“I stated this is bullshit that I can’t be who I am in school,” she said.
Rochelle said she’s unsure whether anyone but her friend heard the remark, but in any case she was called back into the assistant principal’s office and told to leave campus.
Rochelle said three friends who accompanied her for support later were disciplined unfairly in an unrelated matter.
“Go figure,” she said.
Rochelle said for the most part, other students and teachers at the school don’t have issues with her transgender status. Every day, she sports things like girl’s jeans, fingernail polish, a purse and makeup.
But on the roughly six occasions this year when she’s worn a wig, high heels or fake breasts, one school official in particular has taken exception.
“Every attempt has failed,” she said. “It was either being sent home for the remainder of the day, going to in-house suspension for the remainder of the day, or being suspended for the remainder of the day and a day.”
Fortunately, in addition to her friends, Rochelle has the firm support of her mother, Flores.
“As a mother, it’s my duty to my daughter to allow her to feel comfortable, safe and whole,” Flores said.
Rochelle said the most important thing is being able return to school and finish her education. But she also said she hopes what she’s been through will help other transgender kids.
“I think I’m strong enough to take a stand for all those who don’t have a voice,” she said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2007