Transgender Student Battles Over Name Announcement at Graduation

The student uses the name Issak Wolfe, but is enrolled as Sierra Stambaugh

Monday, May 20, 2013  |  Updated 11:34 AM EDT
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A transgender high school senior petitions to use his new name at graduation.  WGAL-TV's Pete Muntean reports.

WGAL-TV

A transgender high school senior petitions to use his new name at graduation. WGAL-TV's Pete Muntean reports.

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A transgender student pressed a Pennsylvania school district on Thursday to reverse its decision to read his female name at next month's graduation ceremony, calling it pointless and "incredibly hurtful."

Issak Wolfe, 18, and more than 50 supporters wearing stickers saying "His name is Issak" attended Thursday night's Red Lion Area School District board meeting. They brought with them a petition of 2,000 signatures urging the board to allow Wolfe to use his male name.

The student uses the name Issak Wolfe, but is enrolled at Red Lion High School in York County as Sierra Stambaugh.

The school board listened to Wolfe's prepared statement but did not make any decision and said they'll continue discussions.

Wolfe will be allowed to wear a boy's black graduation gown. But officials say he will be announced by his given female name as he walks across the stage.

Board solicitor Benjamin Pratt said it has always been procedure to use students' legal names.

Wolfe said ahead of the meeting that he is fighting the decision -- and calling for a policy to protect future students from discrimination on the basis of gender identity, to help others like him.

"It's incredibly hurtful, and if I can prevent somebody else from being hurt in that way, that's what I want to do," he told The Associated Press.

Wolfe said he's also speaking out because high school principal Mark Shue listed him by his birth name on the ballot for prom queen last month, denying him a chance to run for prom king as he had hoped.

Wolfe said Issak is the name he would have been given had he been born a male, and Wolfe is an old family name.

"I've never gotten too much trouble from other students about who I am," Wolfe said in remarks prepared for delivery to the school board. "But when Principal Shue listed me under my old name on the prom queen ballot, it was the most humiliating and demeaning thing that has ever happened to me at school."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which was accompanying Wolfe to the meeting, had demanded an apology for Shue's decision, but the district balked, saying it had already apologized for a "lack of communication" on where Wolfe would be placed on the prom court ballot.

Red Lion's superintendent, Scott Deisley, did not return a phone message from The Associated Press.

Wolfe said that growing up, he was unhappy in his own skin and had a feeling that something was wrong. By 10th grade, he said, he had pinpointed the cause of his distress: He wanted to live as a man. He asked his mother to buy men's clothing and "she was like, 'OK, whatever you want.'"

Wolfe is working on a legal name change. He said in his statement to the school board that the district's insistence on reading his female name at graduation "serves no other purpose than to hurt me more."

About half of his teachers call him Issak, and the rest call him Sierra, he said.

"My teachers have not changed how they treat me. They're all still great," he said. "The name thing is stressful, but they haven't changed their behavior toward me."

 


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