Assistant Principal Accused of Harassing Transgender Student
A West Virginia high school's assistant principal should be disciplined after questioning a transgender male student over his choice of bathrooms and saying, "you freak me out," the American Civil Liberties Union said.
The ACLU's West Virginia chapter said it has asked the Harrison County schools superintendent to take action against Assistant Principal Lee Livengood at Liberty High School in Clarksburg. An ACLU statement said the chapter also is seeking best-practice policies and training in the school system for dealing with transgender students and issues.
Fifteen-year-old student Michael Critchfield said Monday night in an interview he was traumatized by the Nov. 27 incident in a school boys' bathroom.
County schools Superintendent Mark Manchin didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
According to Critchfield, the school's band was preparing to take an afterschool bus trip to Morgantown to watch a performance at West Virginia University. Critchfield said he went to the bathroom and checked to see if anyone was standing at a urinal before he went into a stall.
Livengood then opened the bathroom door and asked if any students were in the stall. Critchfield replied, and when he left the stall, Livengood was standing in the bathroom doorway and blocked Critchfield from leaving.
Critchfield recalled Livengood repeatedly yelling, "Why are you in here? You shouldn't be in here."
Critchfield replied it was his legal right to use that bathroom. He said Livengood used improper pronouns when referring to Critchfield and challenged him to use a urinal to prove that he was a boy.
"I felt really degraded and discriminated against," Critchfield said.
Critchfield said other students had heard screaming coming from the bathroom and told a chaperone, who saw both Critchfield and Livengood walk out.
According to Critchfield, Livengood then said, "Not going to lie. You freak me out."
Critchfield said school "should feel like a safe place. Kids like me should never have to go through anything like this. At the end of the day all I wanted was to feel welcome."
ACLU West Virginia executive director Joseph Cohen called it "a life or death issue." The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study earlier this year showing 51 percent of trans male adolescents had attempted suicide.
"The stakes couldn't really be higher here," Cohen said. "It's past time that West Virginia schools take LGBTQ issues seriously."
Critchfield's mother, Caroline Critchfield, said the incident infuriated her.
"As a parent, that is my child that you are talking to," she said. "His job was to provide safety, to protect my son while he was in school. Not bully. Not badger. Not to humiliate. Not to tear someone down. Not cause phobia. Not cause discrimination against him. What is this teaching our students?"