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LGBTQ+ students across the district could benefit from CUSD’s updated nondiscrimination policy
By Allison Jarrell
For many kids, having a teacher mispronounce their name is a minor annoyance—a fleeting frustration at most—during the course of a school year. But for San Juan Hills High School sophomore Siddharth Piravi, it’s a perpetual, and at times painful, struggle to be identified correctly by his teachers and peers.
As a transgender student, Sid (née Maya) identifies as a boy and prefers to use he/him/his pronouns. On top of the typical back to school preparations, this year the Ladera Ranch teen took the time to reach out to each one of his teachers via email to let them know that he prefers to be called Siddharth, or Sid, rather than his female birth name and gender listed on their rosters.
Throughout his middle school and high school years, he’s run into situations where a teacher or student doesn’t seem to understand or respect his gender identity.
“Getting misgendered is a really gross feeling,” Sid said. He recalled an incident last year with a long-term substitute teacher who repeatedly used the wrong pronouns when identifying him. “It lowers your self-esteem, because that’s something that so many people saw me as before, that I never want to think about again. When people misgender me, it’s not that I feel sad or angry; it’s almost just like disappointment. It’s like I’m not going anywhere.”
Policy that Protects Students
Despite past experiences, Sid is optimistic that an updated nondiscrimination policy in the Capistrano Unified School District will change the way such interactions play out in the future—for him and other transgender and LGBTQ+ students across the district.
The CUSD Board of Trustees held two readings of the district’s revised nondiscrimination policies on Nov. 18 and Dec. 9. The board approved the final revisions to the policy during the latter meeting.
A series of three policies under the nondiscrimination umbrella were revised and approved by the board—Policy 0410, which covers discrimination in programs and activities, Policy 4030, which dictates the district won’t discriminate in employment, and Policy 5180, which says the district won’t allow its students to be discriminated against.
According to the district’s documents, the nondiscrimination policy regarding employment was updated just over 11 years ago, while the policies covering programs, activities and students hadn’t been updated in more than 16 years.
Danielle Serio, a Rancho Santa Margarita resident, former CUSD student and current English teacher at San Juan Hills High School, addressed the board during the Nov. 18 meeting. Speaking on behalf of about 50 San Juan Hills teachers and staff, the school’s PTSA and the school’s Queer Student Alliance—of which she is the advisor—Serio recommended the board adopt the proposed new policy with little to no revision.
“As an educator, the most heartbreaking thing a student can say to me is they do not feel safe or comfortable at school,” Serio said during public comment. “Luckily, I work in a district and in a school where that is not something I hear very often. For some students in our district, however, there are still moments when they feel alienated and unwelcomed during the school day—moments that are important and impactful enough that many of these students would rather stay at home than face them regularly.”
Serio continued that because the district’s nondiscrimination policy covering students went unrevised for more than 16 years, gaps have been contrived and educators and administrators are limited from being able to properly address such problems. Serio said the district’s previous “outdated and nonspecific language” in the policies—which were only a few sentences long—only asked teachers “to be careful to avoid unconscious discrimination,” with no resources, procedures or consequences listed.
Language from the original Policy 5180 stated that, “School staff and volunteers must be especially careful to guard against unconscious discrimination and stereotyping in instruction, guidance and supervision,” while the new policy includes specific language such as the board prohibiting “unlawful discrimination, including discriminatory harassment, intimidation, and bullying of any student based on the student’s actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, national origin, nationality, ethnicity, ethnic group identification, age, religion, marital or parental status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.”
The policy defines what’s considered an unlawful discriminatory act, while also prohibiting retaliation against any individual who files a complaint or report. The revisions also include disciplinary actions such as suspension or expulsion for students who severely violate the law or board policy.
The district’s new gender identity inclusive language “has the opportunity to help a number of students across all of our campuses,” Serio said. “It will not only bring CUSD up to date with California state law, but is an important step in the right direction for the continued support and acceptance of LGBT students in Capistrano Unified.”
Sid was also at CUSD’s Nov. 18 meeting and spoke before the board as a student and president of the San Juan Hills Queer Alliance. Sid said he welcomed the opportunity to share his story, as he’s no longer afraid to talk about his life, transition and struggles, thanks to the unwavering support of his family and friends.
“I’ve had a difficult experience being transgender at San Juan Hills,” Sid said as he addressed the board. “I, as well as trans students across the district, face an innumerable amount of uncomfortable issues involving being bullied by our peers and misgendered by students and teachers.”
He told trustees about missing “quite a bit of school” last year—his pivotal freshman year of high school—because he wasn’t “motivated to learn and thrive in an environment that was cold and unaccepting of (his) identity.”
In a later interview, Sid said the negative environment he referred to at school wasn’t solely from being misgendered, but also from being intimidated on occasion when he uses the boys’ bathroom in lieu of walking 10 minutes across the San Juan Hills campus to the coed facility. While he’s never felt threatened or fearful, he said tensions are sometimes high when he walks into a bathroom full of people glaring at him.
“Now I know that if there is an incidence of violence or aggression that occurs towards me or any other trans student in a bathroom facility, we’ll have explicit law to back us up instead of some general term that can be manipulated either way,” he said.
Identifying as Transgender at School
Sid said life was much simpler in his younger years, when he was labeled a tomboy for playing with trucks instead of Barbie dolls.
“I was just very masculine growing up as a child, but I had no knowledge of what it was to be transgender,” Sid said. “I had no wanting to be a boy or really even a girl—I was just being a kid. No one really cared about what I looked like. But you hit middle school and the peer pressure and influence starts.”
In sixth grade, Sid began realizing that he didn’t look or act like other girls—they were fascinated with wearing makeup, straightening their hair and talking about boys, while he had short hair and wore boy shorts and baggy shirts to school every day. Sid remembers trying, for a time, to conform to what seemed normal by growing long locks and maintaining a more feminine appearance.
“It was just really fake. I didn’t have much depth to myself as a person,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure who I was, but then again, I didn’t think about it too much because I was like, 11 or 12 years old. I thought this was something everyone goes through.”
Sid’s transition began in eighth grade, when he came out as a lesbian to his friends and family. He began facing instances of cyber bullying on the site Ask.fm, where peers sent him hateful messages. Rather than becoming depressed about the negativity, Sid said he began embracing who he is and truly understanding the separation of gender and orientation.
“I realized that I was born a male—that’s what it is to be transgender,” Sid said. “We are born the identity we’re supposed to live as. It took me a long time, but the epiphany I had was that I was born in the wrong body, not that my mind was wrong.”
Thankfully, Sid’s epiphany was accompanied by support from a new group of friends, his parents and his older sister Chetana. A senior at San Juan Hills, Chetana is the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, which ran a center spread piece on the school’s LGBTQ+ community in March of last year. Sid said it was the first time they had a voice at their own school.
Anu, Sid’s mother, said that while Sid began his transition, his father, Veeps, played a big role in guiding him. He took Sid to his hairdresser and they went shopping for clothes together. Today, it’s the “little” things, like shopping trips, that Sid appreciates the most. He remembers the first day he wore hair gel and bought boxers; he remembers the first time he was called “sir” at a restaurant.
“Anything that happened to me (freshman year) felt like the best day of my life,” Sid beamed.
Making a Name for Himself
While Sid is happy about the LGBTQ+ community having equal access to bathrooms as well as equal consideration for sports teams under the new state law and board policy, he’s personally most excited about being able to finally change his name in the school’s system, in addition to legally changing his name before he graduates. He can’t wait to see “Siddharth” etched onto his high school diploma.
Sid’s new, chosen name holds a special place in his heart. During a difficult time in his transition, his father told him that he would have been named Siddharth had he been born a boy. His mother said the name is fitting because Sid’s birth name, Maya, is the name of Buddha’s mother, and Buddha’s birth name was Siddhartha.
“Out of Maya was born Siddharth,” Anu said, smiling. “It’s a beautiful story.”
Perhaps it’s also fitting because in Sanskrit, Siddharth means “one who has accomplished his goal.”
“There’s no other name I would have seen myself as,” Sid said.