Issak Wolfe, a transgender student at Red Lion School District, graduates today. Graduation day is one of life’s big milestones and cause for celebration. Unfortunately, Issak’s big day will be marred by the fact that the school district has refused to respect his gender identity and will read Issak’s female birth name at graduation instead of the male name he has gone by consistently for two years.
The school district is not required to read his legal name. It could have chosen to be kind, understanding, and accommodating to a teenager who has endured much unkindness already. Instead, they have refused this simple accommodation that would cost them nothing, but would mean the world to Issak and his family.
In a June 5 letter to the ACLU, the school district stated that it was in the “best interests” of the school district and the entire graduating class to announce Issak by his legal, female name. They did not explain exactly how disrespecting Issak benefits the school or his classmates.
Although not surprising, the school’s refusal to read his male name was hard for Issak to take – particularly since the announcement was followed by a graduation rehearsal at which the administration stressed to the graduating class how important it was to graduates and their families for the school to read everyone’s “correct names.”
School officials should be in the business of supporting students. They should model acceptance and compassion for others. Instead, Red Lion School District has displayed pettiness and arbitrariness in its treatment of Issak.
Although the mean-spirited acts of school administrators haven’t always made life easy, Issak has worked tirelessly to make his school a safer space for his classmates and future students, urging respect for all students and an end to discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. Although Issak leaves the Red Lion Area School District today, he leaves behind an important legacy of tolerance. Hopefully, one day the district will be ready to embrace Issak’s message.
Today’s Supreme Court decision that upheld Maryland’s preconviction DNA collection law was pretty much atrocious, as pointed out earlier by my colleague Ngani. But there’s no guarantee that Pennsylvania will be next. Here’s why, from the home office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
5. Last year the state Senate passed a preconviction DNA bill. It was rejected by the state House. In October, the House passed an amendment by a freshman Democrat, Representative Brandon Neuman of Washington County, that gutted the bill, including the DNA collection provision with 132 votes in favor of the amendment. This bipartisan coalition included the Speaker of the House.
4. The public safety arguments fall flat. In 2011, Maryland collected 11,000 DNA samples from people charged but not yet convicted of a crime under its law. That led to nine additional convictions for unsolved crimes. Not 90. Not 900. Not 9,999. But nine. Plus, under the commonwealth’s current, postconviction DNA law, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) has a backlog of eight months to test DNA samples, a backlog that will only balloon if the legislature passes a preconviction collection bill. No one can argue with a straight face that preconviction DNA collection protects public safety.
3. It’s expensive. PSP has estimated that preconviction DNA collection would cost $13 million.
2. The right to privacy under the state constitution is robust. Pennsylvania courts have consistently ruled that Article I, Section VIII of the state constitution provides greater privacy protections in search-and-seizures than the Fourth Amendment of the federal constitution.
1. The ACLU of Pennsylvania is on it. And we’re awesome.
7. It’s official: The US Supreme Court has ruled that DNA collection can come before conviction and without a judge issuing a warrant.
6. Collection of DNA – our most intimate genetic material – was equated with fingerprinting.
5. It overturns last year’s ruling by Maryland’s highest court which said that mandatory DNA collection upon arrest is unconstitutional.
4. Maryland now joins 28 other states and DC allowing DNA collection after arrest.
3. It was nice knowin’ ya, Fourth Amendment. “The court has cast aside a bedrock rule of our Fourth Amendment law: that the government may not search its citizens for evidence of crime unless there is a reasonable cause to believe that such evidence will be found,”- Justice Antonin Scalia
2. Ughh. “Make no mistake about it: Because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” – Justice Antonin Scalia
–by Ngani Ndimbe, Community Organizer