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LGBTQ+ students across the district could benefit from CUSD’s updated nondiscrimination policy

Siddharth Piravi, a sophomore at San Juan Hills High School who identifies as transgender, is one of many LGBTQ+ students who stand to benefit from the Capistrano Unified School District’s revised nondiscrimination policy. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Siddharth Piravi, a sophomore at San Juan Hills High School who identifies as transgender, is one of many LGBTQ+ students who stand to benefit from the Capistrano Unified School District’s revised nondiscrimination policy. Photo: Allison Jarrell

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.”

At 15 years old, Sid is a multi-talented musician, playing bass in his free time, trombone in the marching band, baritone in wind ensemble and piano since he was 6. He also plays guitar and sings lead vocals in his own alternative rock band, The Taco Truck. Sid said music has been an outlet for him during his transition and struggles at school. Photo: Allison Jarrell
At 15 years old, Sid is a multi-talented musician, playing bass in his free time, trombone in the marching band, baritone in wind ensemble and piano since he was 6. He also plays guitar and sings lead vocals in his own alternative rock band, The Taco Truck. Sid said music has been an outlet for him during his transition and struggles at school. Photo: Allison Jarrell

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.

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About The Author Capo Dispatch

comments (7)

  • Allison, thank you for an outstanding article. While studying for a degree in human services I had the privilege of working with one of the most successful gender programs in the country. It was based here in San Juan Capistrano. It closed down in 2002, when the clinical psychologist retired.

    Back in the sixties through the late nineties, treating a prepubescent child was virtually unheard of. Thanks to early professional groups like HBIGDA, treatment started to become available to youngsters as young as four or five.

    Hormone blockers are now given to prevent development of secondary sex characteristics and around age 15 or 16, hormone therapy begins. The male-to-female (MTF) develops the secondary sex characteristics of a female, while the female-to-male (FTM) developes male secondary sex characteristics.

    Today transgender topics are appearing more and more often. Discovery Channel did a 10 episode series title “I am Jazz. There are transgender characters written into the daily soap operas and both Frontline and Al Jazeera have done specials “Growing Up Trans.”

    I am glad to see CUSD expanding their non-discrimination policies to include the LGBTQ community.

    Good luck to Sid and all the other students that are, or will be, transitioning, and again Allison, thank you for a really great article.

  • People are free to claim they are a different gender than they were born. People are free to lie to themselves. However, they can not force me to participate in the lie. I’ll call you whatever you ask me to call you. I’ll be respectful. However, I am not going to pretend to think that changing sexes is possible…it is not. sorry. You are what you are….

    • I believe that is all that is being asked for; respect and a reminder to “judge not lest ye be judged.”

      • Angie, I am happy that you have found a comfort zone to live out your journey of life.

        Your comments regarding six and gender, however, are not supported by today’s science.

        Intersexuality can exist in a variety of forms, and it can occur in about one of every 2,000 births—about the same proportion as cystic fibrosis. The reality of sex and gender is much more complex than the simple blueprint learned in high-school biology—XX for female, XY for male. XXY, XYY, XXX, XO and XO/XY are a few of the variants that have been found as the science of genetics has evolved.

        From the moment of conception every embryo has the potential to develop as male or female, but all remain identical for the first six to eight weeks of gestation, at which time several factors nudge the infant toward male or female development.

        But some embryos step off track. The cause can be chromosomal or hormonal. Infants with androgen insensitivity syndrome, for example, have XY cells and develop testis, but their cells cannot process testosterone. Consequently, at birth their genitals appear female and their brain has become feminized. The question of what sex or gender they are doesn’t come up until later in life when testis are discovered internally during a medical examination.

        An inherited condition called 5 alpha reductase deficiency, triggers an apparent female-to-male sex change at puberty. Children with 5-alpha reductase deficiency are often raised as girls, with approximately half of these individuals adopting a male gender role in adolescence or early adulthood.

        Congenital adrenal hyperplasia—the most common intersexual condition—results from hormonal imbalances that masculinize the genitals of XX children. Scientists speculate that such an imbalance may also masculinize the brain, establishing a male gender.

        Likewise, feminization of the brain may also occur in males-to-females due to an elongated version of the androgen receptor gene reducing testosterone action and under masculinization of the brain during fetal development.

        Intersexual infants range from hard-to-classify children to those with much subtler anomalies. To some degree, intersexuality is in the eye of the medical beholder: A large clitoris may be considered normal by one doctor, ambiguous by another.

        As a race we tend to fear anything we don’t understand. These fears are, for the most part irrational, but they are easier to accept than scientific fact.

        We chose to define male and female at first sight by their genitals. Gender is more complex and is determined ultimately by the brain. Unfortunately societies tend to marginalize these individuals, as demonstrated by recent legislation in Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

        With the develop of new technology such as fMRI and PET Scan, researchers are identifying brain differences that may clash with a person’s genetic sex. They have discovered significant differences between male and female brains in four regions of white matter – and the female-to-male people had white matter in these regions that resembled a male brain (Journal of Psychiatric Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.05.006).

        The norm in today’s society is to define individuals whose gender is incongruent with their sexual characteristics as transgender, when in fact they might more correctly be intersex.

        In separate studies, research teams compared the white matter in 18 male-to-female transsexual people with that in 19 males and 19 females. In each case the brain structure of the four regions studied was showed that their brains were not completely masculinized or feminized, but they felt and believed they were female. (Journal of Psychiatric Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.

        A 2010 study of 121 transgender people found that 38 per cent realised they had gender variance by age 5. A separate study, using new image analysis software, allowed researchers to track when and where myelin – the neuron covering that makes white matter white – was laid down (Journal of Neuroscience, vol 31, p 784) finding differences developing in the brain by 2 or 3 years of age. Research has shown that white matter matures during the first 20 to 30 years of life; consequently, people may “experience early or late onset of transsexuality.”

        My point, Angie, is that this is beyond personal choice. The events leading to this sex/gender confusion occurred inutereo, and it is not up to us to judge.

    • And if homosexuality and transsexualism turn out to be genetic? What then, Barrack. Is it still a lie in your mind?

      Despite more and more biological factors being implicated in gender identity, significant social stigmas continue around what many consider simply a lifestyle choice.

      When it comes to the sex chromosomes X and Y, there are numerous anomalies. In the male there are XYY, XXY, XXYY, XXXY and XXXXY, whereas in the female there are two, XO and XXX.

      The default at conception is female. If the Y-chromosome with its SRY gene is present, then the fetus goes through the process of defeminization followed by masculinization to become a male.

      Most recent studies have found a longer version of the androgen receptor gene in male-to-females, which could possibly “result in reduce testosterone action and under masculinization of the brain during fetal development.”

      What I find so disturbing is that in this day and age we have to have so many laws and regulations to prevent discrimination and bullying of minorities, whether it is based on racial, gender or sexual orientation, disability or obesity, or differing religious beliefs.

      • Hi there,

        I too identified as trans gender after identifying first as bisexual when I was a senior in high school because of the social pressures and the false idea that if I get a phalloplasty and get top surgery I would “become” a male and escape being stigmatized as a “butch”. If I could just “become a guy” I would finally fit in. I grew up as a tomboy and never really liked traditionally “girly” things. I started to feel body dysphoria because my whole life I was told I was wrong because everything that made me wasn’t okay because I was female. After reading so much bullshit that was telling me that because I felt more comfortable around guys, more comfortable wearing t-shirts and baggy shorts, had short hair, loved weightlifting, and a bunch of other “masculine” things, I was actually a “boy brain stuck in a female body.” I too, was told that because I never really felt like a girl I wasn’t one. As for body dysphoria, I remembered being in 6th grade and being afraid of growing breasts. I didn’t want to wear bras, I was terrified of getting my period, I didn’t want grown men whistling at me when I was walking home after school when I was not even 14 years old yet, but it happened anyway. And it was rough. And as I older I got extremely body conscious and started to wish I never went through puberty, because going through puberty meant being sexualized by people twice my age and being excluded in sports, and being told I had to dress and act differently and “grow up.” When I was introduced to the word “transgender” when I got older, I was so excited, so relieved to understand why I never fit in and why I felt so uncomfortable with my breasts and why I always wished I was a boy! It was because I was was a boy! I was trans! I had an explanation for wanting to be the “chaser” and not the “chased” in relationships! I had an explanation for why I always felt so good about myself when I was especially chivalrous and when I started gaining muscle and when people called me Ange or Angie instead of Angelica! I had an explanation for why I enjoyed being the driver more than the passenger, why I enjoyed “boy” chores like mowing the lawn instead of washing the dishes, why I hated wearing pink clothes. But that explanation was a lie. I don’t need to be a boy because I like “masculine” things, these things are just what makes me, me.

        My understanding of the differences between biological sex (Male, Female, Intersex), and gender (Man, Woman in the western world) has grown so much since then that I no longer support trans ideology. A sex change doesn’t really make you the opposite sex, it just creates an artificial illusion that you are. Wearing makeup and straightening your hair and wearing dresses and dating boys isn’t what defines being a girl…and having short hair, wearing baggy shorts and playing baseball every weekend doesn’t make you a boy. This is the big lie. The lie is that male and female is determined by these things, but these things are your interests these things are your personality. They aren’t boy or girl things or boy or girl toys, we as a society add gender to them. Sid is such a smart kid. He sees what’s up with how society treats females and males and he saw how much easier it would be for him if he was a male. He sees the rules and says “I can’t win, so I’ll just conform and become a man. Then they’ll let me be who I wanna be.” We pressure girls them to think that their self worth is about looking beautiful and doing “feminine things” and we let them get sexualized at such a young age. We stop telling them how smart they are and how talented, good hearted, strong, capable they are. But humans are all unique and different and extraordinary,

        I just want to say that trans kids are not born in the wrong body. Society is the one saying that. Kids just want to be themselves, stop putting their personalities into boxes.

        Best regards,
        -Angie

  • What comes out here, is really a wonderful family story. Talk about together, between what Sid’s sister published in the school newspaper, and the support from his parents, it’s just great to see a wonderful loving family. Great article.

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