Skylar Ostler found her answers in the back of a Narcotics Anonymous book.
“I had no idea there were people who had gone from one gender, that they were born as, but were actually the other gender, that they could live and be,” Ostler said. “When I read that, it made so much sense. A lot of experiences growing up and different questions and different desires growing up, just suddenly made sense.”
Ostler, a 20-year-old freshman and transgender woman who attends Utah Valley University, had picked up the book while she was in an inpatient treatment facility following a suicide attempt.
But once she came out publicly, going to a public restroom — a topic currently in the national spotlight and fiercely debated by both sides — was a source of anxiety and caused plenty of concern about being attacked.
“So for a long time, I would never go to the bathroom in public,” Ostler said. “I would go home and use the bathroom in my house and hold it.”
Utah is part of a multi-state lawsuit filed Wednesday against the White House in light of a letter released by the Obama administration stating students who are transgender should be able to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. School districts that don’t comply, the letter warns, could lose federal funding.
Last week, three members of the Alpine School District Board of Education sent a letter to state leaders opposing the declaration. The letter, signed by members Paula Hill, Wendy Hart and Brian Halladay, calls the federal recommendations “morally reprehensible” and states that “the consequences of this social experiment would be disastrous, not only as an invasion of the rights of a majority, but also with the potential legal liability that could incur upon the school district and the state, if we were to adopt this egregious guidance.”
During the board's May 17 meeting, Board President John Burton said it would not be addressing the federal letter and that the letter sent in response was from the three individual members and not a statement from the board.
Growing up in a household that was very active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ostler always felt off and didn’t understand why. Then, at 16, when those feelings continued getting worse, she made a decision.
“I wanted to give my family a really happy Christmas, and then after Christmas, I would just off myself and be done with it,” Ostler said.
On Jan. 7, 2013, she attempted suicide and wound up in a psychiatric ward for a week. After that week nothing was found wrong with her and outpatient therapy was suggested. Three days later she was back in the hospital on suicide watch.
Soon after, her mother found her with a razor, and she was in the hospital for another week before she was transferred to a long-term inpatient facility.
At the facility she had little to do and started reading Narcotics Anonymous books. That’s when she stumbled across a story inside about a woman who was transgender.
“I had no idea there was such a thing as a transgender person,” Ostler said.
She came out to her therapist, who didn’t know what to say and put her in a group for sex offenders. So Ostler hid it again.
Eventually, she was released and re-enrolled at Lone Peak High School in Highland. She worked toward getting on the student council and was able to use a computer again. Soon after she turned 17, her parents found her search history, where she was researching transitioning and how to come out.
They called her therapist, who told them it was a fetish they had worked through. In the middle of the night, after she was forced to come out to her parents, she was driven back to the inpatient facility.
After a total of nine months in the program, between her two visits, she was back home again. She hid being transgender again until just before her 18th birthday, then moved in with some friends after being told she couldn’t live as a girl in her parents’ house.
Ostler said her parents contacted Alpine School District and were told the district had no protections explicitly for transgender students.
“They decided that since there aren’t protections or things, it wouldn’t be the time to transition,” Ostler said.
So she didn’t tell teachers, or administration, and lived as a boy through her high school graduation.
Title IX didn’t clarify protections for transgender students until 2014, the year Ostler graduated. She came out to her family in January 2014 and came out publicly a year later.
She said worries that people, if allowed to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, will pretend to be another gender to sexually assault people are ridiculous.
“If someone is going to break a law, they aren’t going to go up to a bathroom and say, ‘Oh, dang. There’s a law preventing me from raping someone in here, better not rape them,’” Ostler said. “They are not just waiting for a loophole to be opened up.”
She said there are other students in local schools who are transgender and have yet to come out, partly because of their families, and partly because they are unsure if school districts have protections to keep them safe.
Under Title IX, students who are transgender are protected, but Ostler said that should be explicitly stated in district policies. An Alpine School District spokesperson has said the district doesn’t have a policy specifically for transgender students, but that there are anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, and the school board will be investigating revising it in the near future.
On a non-discrimination list on its website, the district lists sex, age and race among a group of protected groups, along with "any other classification protected by law," but does not specifically mention gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression.
“Everyone knows if a student gets harassed because they are black, there is a policy that protects them,” Ostler said. “But if a student gets harassed because they are gay, they don’t know if there is a policy protecting them.”