Archive for the ‘New Hampshire’ Category

Live Free, Even a Schoolgirl

May 17th, 2012

A long, often emotionally wracking struggle finishes with this school year. In September, Jen will attend a new public school. She’ll no longer be ostracized or isolated or punished or sent hither and yon to use a toilet.

Almost all of us are wont to say this or that is “only common sense.” Likewise, many of us see respect for each other and our shared humanity as right and necessary. Jen finally will have those baselines.

Background: The original post on her schooling and the bizarre, hostile behavior of school officials is here.

In the case of this smart, loving transgender child, only a family support system, augmented with the straight-ahead savvy and attitude of a GLAD lawyer brought respect and kindness. Jen’s mother and grandmother did battle as necessary school officials, while buoying Jen at home to compensate for the daily angst. They lavish praise on the GLAD attorney who helped them, or as they put it, “the most wonderful, caring, thoughtful, selfless man, My Attorney Janson!!!! He gave us more than we could ever ask for.”

And there you have it. Yes, he negotiated with school officials. He educated them (and Jen’s family) on the requirements and limits of the law. (The national Americans with Disability Act, for example, excludes transgender, relying on state statutes and public officials to be savvy and humane.) Certainly having legal oomph behind you never hurts.

The solution of switching schools would seem less than ideal. The other elementary school students were fine with Jen’s transition. It was only a parent or two and the administrators who were crazed over her closing the bathroom stall door once or twice a day. They should have been the ones to change and mature and humanize.

However, The key here is that Jen gets to be a student and a child and a girl in school. That really shouldn’t have been so hard.


Helping and Harming a Transgender Child

February 2nd, 2012

I’m tempted to call it the magic headband. From the day the 8-year-old transgender student wore it to class, there was a transformation. The angry, screaming child who would flip over desks suddenly became a happy scholar.

Who could find problems with that?

ID note: To respect the privacy of all involved as this unfolds, this identifies the child only by first name, does not reveal the locale or school, and cites the grandmother as GM and mother as Mommy.

Source note: My j-school/newspaper background normally has me going to multiple sources. This draws almost entirely on the candid conversation with GM. Future updates may include lawyers, the therapist, the principal or others, but there’s plenty in the experiences from her view.

The principal of the school was among those who has not yet learned to deal with John presenting as Jen. In particular, she’d like Mommy and GM to punish Jen for using the girls restroom and apparently claims Jen will do so “over my dead body.” Unfortunately, in New Hampshire, the legislature rejected the bill that would add legal protections to transgender children and adults. The other New England states prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Acknowledged transgender is not common. Estimates run from 3% down to a quarter of 1%. Yet it’s real when it’s real, and denial, anger and other irrational responses help no one and change nothing.

Revealing Jen

This child’s background is not so simple as many of our lives and goes far below gender identity. For starters, a single mom with a daughter found out and met the brother and sister five and three year olds who had been in foster care for years. She decided to bring them into her home and begin the adoption process.

That’s remarkable enough. In what would have dissuaded most prospective parents, the boy, John, was deemed severely autistic, low verbal, prone to outbreaks, and not toilet trained at five. GM reports that her daughter asked her, “Do you think I can do this?” She replied, “If anyone can do this, you can.”

The adoption took a year, but two years ago, the pair legally came to Mommy. He had already been toilet trained as soon as they came into the home, as GM put it, “in two weeks…with love.” He was still unhappy but quickly more verbal. GM notes that both children had arrived gaunt and pale. Even their skin color changed, to the point where the doctor’s office didn’t recognize them.

There was no tension with the existing daughter. She was fine with a sister, but in particular had always wanted a brother.

The wrinkle was in the boy’s fondness for things frilly. He liked to dress up in girls’ clothes. Mommy and GM quickly became aware this was not transvestism. Rather, he said he was a girl.

They took him to a therapist, who asked among other questions, “Have you always felt like a girl?” John replied, “No, I’ve always been a girl.”

While Mommy and GM are quick to point out they just love the children and want to do what’s best for them, let us note their wisdom and equanimity as well. They did not flip out, did not scream at or hit John, did not do the gender-identity version of trying to convert a lefthander, and did not demand that he live double school/home lives.

Starting wearing dresses at home and being very saddened by having to wear a boy’s suit for his adoption ceremony, John left no doubt about identity. Willing to present as a girl at school, as Jen, meant simultaneously being honest and risking what came from classmates and teachers.

Trouble from Above

Both Jen and her sister are shorter and slighter than many peers, but neither lacks courage. Jen has retained and expanded her friends, says GM, who noted with pride the attitude of the younger sister to the few students who would taunt on the playground. “She protects Jen. She’ll get right between her and children on the playground. She’ll say, ‘Don’t call her a boy. That’s my sister.'”

Jen insisted on going to school in dresses. The therapist supported this and told Jen to use the girls room when no one else was there. Mommy and GM met with teachers and the principal several times to let them know what would happen. The principal even met with Jen in her office to prepare.

Then the letter arrived. It seems one parent had complained about Jen using the girls room. “The school was going to pursue legal action if (Mommy) didn’t punish her for this,” said GM. “Plus, they were going to follow her around school.” GM and Mommy weren’t about to punish Jen or accept separate and unequal treatment.

Jen had gone from a problem child to a student of the month. She loved school and had lots of friends. Now, said GM, “Jen came home crying saying she can’t use the bathroom, ‘because I’m making them uncomfortable.'”

In the closest thing the school came to trying a compromise, the principal said Jen would have to use the nurse’s office restroom. While GM and Mommy heard this and thought they could frame it as their idea and something special. Unfortunately, the principal presented this as a mandate to Jen before letting them know what was up. Thus, Jen felt punished and tried to go the dayswithout using any restroom.

More to Be Done

Jen loves school, but short-term, she’s not there. Until arrangements are in place and there is a clear understanding, she’s being home schooled. Oddly GM and Mommy had some experience with this years before in a previous school with the first daughter. She was diabetic and the school would not medicate her as needed for her health. They resolved that and got her back in.

Likewise, the aim her is to get Jen back in class with her friends, who GM says are fine with the transition. Meanwhile, GM and Mommy have been in contact with a GLAD lawyer as well as counterparts in two other states. The school will receive guidelines on how to deal with a transgender student.

GM seems singularly well organized and a formidable force. She and Mommy had also kept detailed records of the entire process, including all communications and meetings. They are more than willing to do their parts to make this work as smoothly and pleasantly as possible. They also have not stopped reading and speaking with people who understand they physical, psychological and legal aspects.

Their attitude includes that a transgender student going to school in a dress, “is not going to be the hardest thing she’ll go through.”

In fact, their surprise came when they had to confront their own related issue. First it was from the older daughter, the one who had always wanted a brother. As John transitioned to Jen, GM said, “She cried and said, ‘I’m losing my brother!’ That’s when we realized we were losing him too.” All had known John as he joined them and blossomed from the sad, autistic boy they first new into the happy Jen who loves school and is popular. “We’ve had to grieve John, ” said GM. “John no longer exists.”

Instead, Jen is ready to get on with her life. Mommy will see that her name is changed legally. Moreover, at this point it seems that sexual reassignment surgery is somewhere in the more distant future.

While Jen was initially unclear on genital anatomy, she knew she had a penis. When Mommy explained how girls and boys differed, Jen said, “Mommy, why do I have to wait? Can’t you just cut off my penis, so people will like me?”

For those who would say such things as homosexuality is a lifestyle or in this case transgender is a choice that weird adults make, let us consider the reality of the latter with Jen. She is a child who has known early on what her true gender is. She hurts no one and wants to get on with her life and to develop as any child. Her grandmother, mother and sisters will do their part. It is a small enough thing to expect everyone else to let her go about that life.

Cross-post: This appears also at Marry in Massachusetts.

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God Guy Wins Another One

January 21st, 2010

Faith in action can work just fine. We see that in a follow-up to the tale of the New Hampshire preacher who early last year took a paroled ex-con into his home…to the anger and horror of nearly everyone. See the original post on that here.

The ex-criminal, Raymond Guay, had a particularly gruesome record of torture, murder and kidnapping. Yet, the Rev. David Pinckney was, well, a lot more Christian than nearly everyone. After getting to know Guay, the minister was convinced that Guay 1) had gone through a born-again transformation, and 2) had truly paid his debt to society.

See the original post for the details and links to the backstory. The key component is that Pickney took the paroled Guay into his home, replete with the minister’s wife and kids. The idea was to find a more permanent setting and help Guay get work. In other words, this was both rehabilitation as the justice system claims to want and Christianity as the New Testament describes it.

Pinckney’s neighbors, even some not very close, were beside themselves. Loving forgiveness? Nothing doing.

In my follow-up, Pinckney and I exchanged email. He made his offer and commitment and took what many self-identified Christians said was a gesture doomed to failure and maybe death. Not so, sports fans.  Instead:

Ray is doing very well, living in New Hampton, NH with a Christian couple on a 60 acre spread at the end of a mile long driveway…   He stays very busy on this property helping the couple, and does side jobs when they come available (he’s presently replacing a kitchen floor for a couple in our church).  His craftsmanship and work ethic are unmatchable in my estimation.   He has been accepted warmly into a church in Meredith NH and continues to find great joy in his faith in Jesus.   We stay in contact regularly and I see him at least once a month. 

Having covered justice and jail issues for newspapers and having worked with former prisoners, that is what I hoped. Rather than assume all the incarcerated are lost forever and deserving of perpetual punishment, in and out of prison, we should know that some do just fine. Invariably though, the help they get on this side of the walls and bars can make that difference.

We can’t think this didn’t depend on Rev. Pinckney. Not only is he a religious sort who actually lives his faith, he was very discerning. Unlike those women who communicate with and meet prisoners, he didn’t fall in love thinking this is someone who will really need and depend on me. He accurately assessed the man. He almost certainly is a better judge of minds and souls than you or I.

Let us praise those who make life better for another and provide an example for us all.

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Living the Bible with an Ex-Con

March 19th, 2009

For most of us, it seems, there is no such thing as paying your debt to society. A convict is a convict is a convict, regardless of punishment served.

Considering how fond we are of such concepts as innocent until proved guilty or even someone was innocent of the accusations because a jury returned a not-guilty finding, you would think we’d do the other end better.

The concept is simple enough. Get accused of a crime. Get convicted or plead guilty. Get sentenced to jail. Get released per se or on parole. And then…and then…the idea is to return to society chastened and ready to contribute.

The current example of our not accepting that is in small-town New Hampshire. Where a fundy minister is living his and his church’s faith by housing and monitoring a parolee. The convicted criminal was no jaywalker either.

Links of chainIt’s about a nasty as human behavior gets. Raymond Guay tortured and murdered a 12-year-old in 1973, kidnapped a couple nine years later, and stabbed another inmate while in prison. The court ordered him on release on parole to spend the next three years in New Hampshire. That hasn’t proved easy, as the mayors of Manchester and Concord forced him out of their cities. NIMBYism is never subtle and can be relentless and vicious.

The discussion is a lot lighter and easier when the released criminal is not violent. A check kiter or cat burglar is less threatening, even if they as or more likely to repeat their crimes. We don’t fear a Bernie Madoff murdering us or our kids in the night.

In this case though, Rev. David Pinckney of the River of Grace Church in Concord is putting his Christianity in practice for real, not in checkbook religion. He is housing and taking responsibility for Guay in his own home in Chichester, population just over 2,000.

In case you have any doubt of Pinckney’s sincerity, be aware four of his five kids, 13 to 18, still live at home. As the minister put it, “We were warned. It was said this could disrupt life. People wouldn’t like it. He’s not liked. But at the end of the day, this is what Jesus did. He defended the defenseless. He was a friend of sinners.”

NIMBYism is never subtle

Pickney’s neighbors are keeping their own kids inside and some have let him know they don’t appreciate his faith in action.

What’s disappointed him, he said, are the reactions of others, given the lengths he is taking to keep Guay under close watch. Though Guay is legally free to go where he pleases, he has agreed to Pinckney’s terms that he always remain under adult supervision, and has even volunteered to wear a movement-tracking ankle bracelet like an inmate on house arrest.

Those just waiting for the worst and ready with shovels of I-told-you-so must be many.  As a father of three, I take a deep breath or two or three at the concept. Here the doctrine and theory are solid, but Pinckney has placed a terrific burden on himself.

Advocates for released prisoner re-entry, such as the Fortune Society, have long and rationally decried the hypocrisy of refusing to accept someone having been punished enough. This extreme case and the penalty for failure here make Pickney a remarkable example of walking it like he talks it.

Interestingly enough for me is that River of Grace is not a UCC or UU church. It is certainly Bible based. Its website doesn’t specifically say it is morally conservative, although it did list on its resource pages Help with homosexual issues: Exodus International. A good look at the sparse site suggests he and I would have considerable theological and political differences.

Yet, the RoG doesn’t hide from the issue at hand. On the home page, it states:

The River of Grace Church in the news

We believe in the power of God to save and change people, both inside and outside prison walls. While we are committed to love and support ex-convicts as they seriously seek to re-enter society and follow Jesus, we also recognize our responsibility to provide a safe-haven for the families and children God has committed to our care.

Pickney didn’t invite Guay home on a whim though. He explained his process and thinking in a letter to the Concord Monitor. He reported that after examining records and with interviews with Guay and numerous others, he firmly believes there is no danger to anyone in Chichester.

As Pickney wrote, “He has committed some horrendous crimes in his past. What doesn’t get reported is that since 1993 his life has been on a very different course. That year he became a follower of Jesus.” Sixteen year of good behavior and avowed Christianity convinced the minister.

For a differing view, a neighbor who lives across the street told the paper, “I say B.S. Once a murderer, always a murderer. I want him off my street, and I won’t rest until he’s gone, period.”

That seems to be the American way and the practical limit of Christianity for most people.

By the bye, the contact for The Fortune Society’s treatment options is here.

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New Beer’s Eve

January 5th, 2009

I have heard that I am known to drink a beer or ale on occasion. This New Year’s Eve was such an occasion. I suspect my eve was more pleasant and memorable than yours…through little doing of my own.

My effort was only in arranging for family friends to add my two teens to their small group in a large house, reserving a hotel room in New Hampshire, and driving north with the uxorial unit into squint-making, driving snow and sleet.

A friend and former co-worker did the thinking, organizing and even airplane shuttling of a keg. He showed that many can benefit from an avocation that straddles passion and obsession. Bless him.

Michael Fairbrother hosted a beer-based party that few could have pulled off for a variety of limitations. On the five taps in his basement, he offered:

Michael and I shared a manager with a titanic ego. He feigned humility when one of us did something well. He bowed and said, “I am not worthy.” Well, I sincerely felt that at this event.

Brother Fairbrother, as I am wont to call  him, assembled a remarkable set of brews. Apparently none of them had ever been served in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. Each was a keg of fresh brew. Each represented an extreme level of its type.

Moreover, because he is a long-term home brewer and award winner for his output, he knew the people who owned these breweries. Only because of that, did they ship him their limited production, or in the case of Furious IPA, let him fly out to Minnesota with an empty keg and leave with the real thing.

I am not worthy.

As the evening progressed, the adjectives, largely superlatives, buffeted our ears. Then the closeted but very real vanities popped out in ones and twos. About 10 of the guests are also members of the 18-year-old Brew Free or Die club. Most brought bottles of their own best brews to share. Many brought impressive brews they had bought.

The host also opened bottles of his own beers, ales and meads.  I’m not much for the latter in general, thinking of it as spoiled soda pop, but his strong raspberry-based mead was remarkable.

He capped the evening by sharing a jeroboam of Unibroue Maudite. He had saved the gigantic bottle from a Canadian trip and wowed us all, even after tasting the kegs and bottles all evening.

We unworthy ones did bring the food, each specialties and favorites.  Normally, those offerings would be the basis for conversation and memory. Hah.

The food was in several rooms upstairs, most of the drinking took place in the bar area. The basement has a gigantic TV and couches on one side, the bar with its taps and stools on the other. The other half of the floor is his professional brewery, replete with three bourbon kegs for aging his own and group efforts.

The hubbies seemed to be the brewing half of the various couples. We overheard or conversed with the wives about the club and brews. They were very knowledgeable, much like mates of professional athletes. Each said she could never do what her husband did, but boy, did she know the lingo, the process and the ingredients.

Happy new year to them. Happy New Year’s Eve to me.

The only downside is that my chum John, who also went, will be a lot harder to impress at our every-other-weekly visit to some micro-brew bar. We have tasted the promised land.

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