Around age six, Emma Todd of Springfield began to feel like something wasn’t right.
Born genetically male, Emma says she wasn’t comfortable growing up with her assigned sex.
“I just felt different, and it took me a while to figure it out for myself,” Todd said.
Now, at age 18, Todd says she feels more at home in her body as she transitions to female with the help of hormone therapy. After facing the unsure prospect of being openly transgender in a society that is largely unfamiliar with the concept, Todd is using her experiences so far as motivation to fight bullying and help others.
“I want to be an activist so others don’t have to be,” Todd said.
Emma Todd is what’s known as “transgender,” which refers to an individual whose own internal gender identity doesn’t match their genetically assigned sex. Transgender people may change their physical appearance, though being transgender doesn’t necessarily mean a person undergoes sex reassignment surgery.
Todd is a senior at Lanphier High School. She says she plans to study political science and gender studies in college, then become an activist and eventually run for public office.
Todd says she wrestled with her gender identity growing up, first thinking she was bisexual and later thinking she was gay before realizing she felt most comfortable as a female.
“It was hard coming to terms with it,” Todd says, adding that the support of her mother made it easier to make such a significant decision.
Todd’s road to this point hasn’t been completely smooth, however. She previously attended Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, and she left the school after her sophomore year in order to transition to female in a more private environment while taking high school classes online. When Todd decided to spend her senior year back at SHG, she says she was told by the principal not to return.
“She told me she couldn’t guarantee my safety if I went back there and she wouldn’t allow me to come back,” Todd said. “It sounded more like a threat than anything, and something you wouldn’t really expect to hear from administration. There wouldn’t have been a problem with the students and teachers.”
Todd notes that no teachers or students acted negatively toward her. Aside from a few incidents, Todd says she has been treated well by friends and family since beginning her transition.
“I was kind of worried about how that would go when I first started to transition,” Todd said. “I was really surprised, but most people were very nice about it.”
SHG principal Sister Margaret Joanne Grueter said she couldn’t discuss the situation because it is against the school’s policy to discuss private matters of students.
Todd says one friend who initially reacted with disgust eventually accepted her as female, and a few female students at Lanphier initially objected to sharing a locker room with her. That situation, too, has been resolved positively.
“I told them I’m not going to capitulate to ignorance,” Todd said.
She isn’t waiting to become an activist, either. She works with the Chicago-based Equality Illinois group advocating for LGBT issues through letter-writing campaigns, and she is involved with Lanphier’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Last month, Todd went to Washington, D.C., with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network to attend its Safe Schools Advocacy Summit and push for a pair of bills meant to combat bullying.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act would outlaw discrimination in schools against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students based on sexual orientation or gender identity, similar to existing civil rights protections. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would include definitions of bullying and discrimination in federal law, while also requiring schools to create anti-bullying plans. It would require schools to record incidents of bullying and discrimination, and schools would be encouraged to train teachers on bullying and harassment.
During her trip to the nation’s capital, Todd carried with her a handmade Valentine card from a younger transgender girl Todd met at a transgender youth group in St. Louis. The younger girl may have to leave her middle school because of bullying, Todd said.
“It was just kind of a reminder who I was working for,” Todd said, referring to the card. “I’m going to make sure other students don’t have to go through that.”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at firstname.lastname@example.org.