HILLSBORO • Derrick Good carries the aura of a fixer. At lunch the other day at the Courthouse Grill, he knew everybody who walked through the door. His waitress even hit him up for legal advice.
Good, 42, is a small-town lawyer who is involved in a lot of things. Charities. Baptist church. Republican politics, where he tends to work quietly behind the scenes.
One year ago, he dove into the transgender arena after parents, the school district and reporters rushed in for help and public comment on an emotional issue.
Hillsboro High School senior Lila Perry had shot up a flare from the rural hills of Jefferson County that was seen across the country and beyond. Perry, who was born male but identified as female, was telling news reporters that she would no longer settle for a unisex faculty restroom made especially for her.
“I am a girl,” Perry, dressed in a skirt and long wig, said then. “I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom.”
All of a sudden, the school district, which has about 3,500 students, had an enormous situation on its hands. Students walked out. Some in support of Perry, others not. Some parents were caught off guard. Calls and emails backed up from all over.
In the mix, three of seven school board members resigned. Good was tapped as an emergency replacement. He would go on to help develop a formal policy on how the school district would handle transgender students even though the law is still unclear.
Foremost, Good said he’s the father of two children, ages 14 and 9, in the district. But he became a spokesman for other parents like him who had serious concerns about a student with a penis using their daughters’ restroom without warning.
Good gave multiple interviews to media outlets, anything from conservative talk radio to the Today Show.
“We don’t need freshmen girls showing up on the first day of school with a biological male in the dressing room with them when their parents or they have no idea it could happen,” Good said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me. Kids do better when there are rules, and there were no rules.”
And there were no easy answers.
“These kids grew up with this guy as a guy who now all of a sudden says: ‘I am a girl,’” Good said. “I would get crucified for saying it that way publicly, but I don’t know how else to look at it. That’s the circumstance.”
Parents such as Good were on edge. As the transgender issue becomes more publicized, it forces parents to have tough conversations with their children before they are ready to do so. They question where parental rights end in dealing with juveniles.
And while the rights of one child could be championed, they feel it could trample the rights of others.
“What about the physical privacy of the girls who know where they are at?” Good said. “Why does somebody else get to cross the line and force them into a situation that they don’t want to be in?”
School districts around the state typically deal with transgender quietly, on a case-by-case basis. Perry, and her willingness to go public, changed the narrative in Hillsboro.
Good and others felt that they needed to craft a policy. They were largely on their own.
President Barack Obama’s administration has said the failure to allow transgender students use of the bathroom, locker room or name associated with their gender identity amounts to discrimination based on sex. The guidelines are being challenged. The Supreme Court has yet to take a position on transgender in schools.
The Missouri School Boards Association offered Hillsboro two starkly different model policies: one that follows federal guidelines and one that does not. The association doesn’t recommend either because the law isn’t defined.
Regardless, Good said he wanted a policy that Hillsboro and other school districts could adopt.
“Every school district is dealing with it, whether you hear about it or not,” he said.
Over the summer, Hillsboro finalized two policies.
“Anyone who desires greater privacy” can request alternative accommodations so long as the restroom or dressing area doesn’t include that of the opposite sex. Students are allowed one written request for name and associated gender-pronoun change per school year with the support of their parents.
The word “transgender” is not mentioned in the policies.
“Why am I going to make a policy aimed at one particular group of kids?” Good said. “Isn’t that the definition of an equal-protection problem or discrimination problem? I am not going to make a Baptist-student policy or a Catholic-student policy. Let’s make a facilities-use policy. This applies to all of our kids, not just one.”
Regarding special accommodations, Good said: “Whatever your issue is, we’ve now come up with a rule that says we are here to protect you and make you successful. In my mind that’s what we did. Who is to say there is a right and wrong? What we did is very fair.”
He said transgender decisions should be made after graduation.
“When people are adults and they have made decisions and there are surgeries available and physical change, that’s different than when you are still in high school,” he said.
As his temporary position on the school board came to a close, Good ran for a permanent seat. He said he lost by eight votes.
“I am OK with it,” he said. “I really felt like we accomplished what I felt I needed to accomplish.”
And new duties arise. He was recently appointed president of the Jefferson County Port Authority. He’s still involved with transgender issues as an attorney affiliated with Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based organization that weighs in across the country.
Though Lila Perry graduated, the superintendent of schools said there are several transgender students in Jefferson County.
So far this school year, two Hillsboro students requested name and gender pronoun changes. No one asked for alternative restroom or dressing accommodations.
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