A transgender boy in Washington, DC, was recently welcomed with open arms by his neighborhood after being rejected by his Catholic elementary school due to his gender identity. The boy’s parents have become instrumental advocates in cultivating an affirming space in response to their son’s journey of self-discovery.
According to Hill Rag, a Pride celebration was organized on June 19 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for 12-year-old Michael McKeon, a transgender boy whose former Catholic school, Our Lady of Victory (OLV), would not acknowledge his gender transition.
A local neighbor suggested a Pride parade to celebrate Michael. News of the organized rally spread quickly. Jay Adelstein, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) representative, helped organize the festivities and also participated in the parade along with Michael’s family and fellow neighbors. Adelstein enthusiastically stated:
“All of us in the parade are very proud that Michael is pursuing his identity, and of his family for their support.”
Michael’s parents, Erin and Robert McKeon, discovered that their son was transgender when an episode of depression resulted in his hospitalization back in September 2019.
As reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a 2018 study revealed a high attempted suicide rate among transgender youth:
“14 percent of youth aged 11 to 19 have attempted to kill themselves. Female to male adolescents reported the highest levels, with just over 50 percent attempting suicide at least once.”’
In response to their son’s suffering and the enormous bigotry experienced by transgender youth, Michael’s parents immediately began to embrace their child’s gender identity.
Following Michael’s hospitalization, the McKeons scheduled a meeting with their son’s teachers at OLV to initiate a dialogue to ensure that Michael would be safe and welcomed at school as a transgender boy. Soon after the conversations, the school’s principal and vice-principal became involved, criticizing the McKeons for advocating for their son. Robert McKeon stated:
“’We were chastised by the principal and the vice principal for having told the teachers this. We were told that we are not to speak with any of the teachers about Michael’s psychological condition, you know, at all. So, I’m not really sure what we were there for, at a parent-teachers conference, if we don’t talk about our kid.'”
The school would not permit their son to express his gender identity by using his preferred name as well as wearing a bow tie, consistent with the school’s uniform for boys. The school continued to call Michael by the name assigned to him at birth.
The parents then met with William Ryan, who at the time was the schools superintendent for the Archdiocese of Washington. Ryan upheld OLV’s decisions.
Robert McKeon expressed his dismay at the continued refusal to support his child:
“‘It was not the meeting with the superintendent I expected. Recognizing Michael as Michael allows him to feel accepted and to love himself and want to be himself. That kind of fell on deaf ears. It was very strange. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced.'”
Ultimately, the school chose not to re-enroll Michael, citing a tardy submission of his rematriculation materials. OLV also declined to re-enroll Michael’s sister, Molly.
As reported by HillRag, Michael reflected on the school’s response to his coming out experience as a transgender boy:
“‘Being rejected for something that’s caused me so much trouble, and something I’ve had to come to terms with for over – I don’t know, a lot of years – and just finally having the courage to say and then just getting kicked in the face. It wasn’t fun.’
“‘What really hurt was that they knew that I was not feeling well emotionally, but they still decided to kick me out of the school. They didn’t listen to arguments against them that were true. They just didn’t want anything to do with me.'”
Both Michael and his sister Molly are now enrolled at Capitol Hill Day School , an educational environment that embraces a robust understanding of student diversity.
Michael’s parents embody a powerful model of understanding, accepting, and loving one’s transgender child as they discover who they are. The key take away from their advocacy efforts is a steadfast desire to support their child in his time of great emotional suffering. The outpouring love of Michael’s parents and his local neighborhood is a reflection of the unconditional love that God provides to all creation.
The Catholic school’s refusal to acknowledge Michael’s gender identity and take the measures to ensure that he would be safe and accepted is terribly disappointing. Catholic schools should revisit their policies on diversity for LGBTQ students, with a specific focus on transgender students.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, September 5, 2020