In the fall of 2014, 26-year-old fifth grade teacher Brina Soell was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing a double mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy, Soell decided it was time to embrace her true self.
For years, friends outside of school knew Soell was transgender and used the neutral pronoun “they” to address (her). At work, coworkers addressed Soell as “she.” After treatment, Soell let it be known that “they” wished to be referred to as Leo.
However, upon returning to work after treatment, Soell found a less than welcoming atmosphere in the Gresham-Barlow School District and at Hall Elementary School in Oregon. Soell filed suit against the district for harassment and was awarded $60,000 in damages and promised that changes would be made across the districts nearly two dozen campuses to better accommodate transgender teachers.
In a complaint filed to the district, Soell alleged the harassment and emotional distress began shortly after she returned from treatment in “their” new self and continued even after the school hosted an hour-long training on transgender issues.
Oregon Live reports, Soell identifies as neither male nor female and uses the pronoun they instead of he or she. But, Soell wrote, coworkers continuously called Soell “she,” “lady” or “Miss Soell.” Someone smeared Vaseline on Soell’s cabinets, the complaint said, and another yelled insults in the school hallway. Others conspired to prevent Soell from using the school’s lone gender-neutral bathroom, the complaint said.
A district investigation, which officials have declined to release, found no proof of harassment.
But Gresham-Barlow officials agreed to a settlement this month that compensates Soell for emotional damages. District leaders also agreed to add gender-neutral bathrooms to all schools, create clear policies about transgender teachers and host mandatory trainings for all Gresham principals, as well as Hall staff.
Bear in mind — as we often repeat here – the transgender population represents only about three-tenths of one percent of the population at large. Yet it is now de rigueur for the other 99.7 percent to put aside our own needs, beliefs, concerns or conventions to accommodate the 0.3.
Soell started teaching at Hall in 2013. That same year, Soell told friends and family that Soell did not identify as a woman or a man.
Initially Soell didn’t come out at work. Oregon teachers work their first three years on yearlong probationary contracts, so Soell decided to wait for job security before telling administrators.
Then, in November 2014, doctors diagnosed Soell with breast cancer. Surgeons removed Soell’s breasts and performed reconstructive “top surgery” to give Soell a masculine-appearing chest. After chemotherapy, Soell decided to no longer live in hiding.
Forgive me for being insensitive, but I would think it a very lonely and strange life not to identify either as male or female, and live in a permanent state of flux. For most of us living a binary life, it’s simple, like a light switch – you’re either on or off. However, if you’re unable to identify as one or the other, it would seem difficult to live life as a human dimmer switch, forever sliding between two poles.
But I’ve come to realize I’m old fashioned that way…
[Note: This article was written by Michele Hickford]