American Legion to Reverses Decision on Rejected Trans Teen―But There’s a Catch

· Updated on May 28, 2018

American Legion has announced a reversal in its decision to reject a transgender teen from its government education program, with a caveat.

Emmet Cummings, 17, will be allowed to participate in the Hawkeye Boys State program, after all.

“The board at the Department of Iowa reconsidered and admitted Emme[t] to the Boys State program,” wrote Joe Plenzler, director of media relations for American Legion National Headquarters, in a statement to INTO.

The announcement comes amid a flurry of negative press for the organization, which rejected Cummings because he is trans.

A political junkie, Cummings had dreamed of attending the weeklong program since he was eight years old. The program aims to teach young people about American democracy.

“Of course he was over the moon about [the reversal],” Emmet’s mom, Halane Cummings, tells INTO.

But there’s a catch: Emmet will have to stay in “alternative housing,” Halane Cummings says. And the organization hasn’t said if they have changed policy or just made an exception for Emmet. For that reason, Halane says, Emmet isn’t sure he wants attend.

“I think a lot of it is going to come down to if they’re not willing to make this accessible to any trans male down the road,” Halane says. “He really feels that, ‘That’s all great and fine for me, but I would really feel guilty about the kid that doesn’t get to go.’”

Plenzler says the decision does not necessarily represent a change in policy for American Legion as the organization currently has no transgender policy.

The high school junior came out as transgender three years ago. Halane says that for the first year of his transition, he used staff bathrooms at his school, not for his own comfort but for others. She worries that in asking him to be housed separately, American Legion is again singling him out.

“It kind of tears a little bit at me because Emmet has always been a little bit concerned about the feelings of others,” she says.

In an email to Halane, American Legion had explained the initial rejection by suggesting that Emmet wasn’t male.

“The board decided to continue the existing practice of allowing only male participants in the Boys State program,” wrote Jill Druskis, Director of the Americanism Division of American Legion. “Although you may not agree with the decision made, the American Legion Hawkeye Boys State executive board arrived at their decision only after very comprehensive consideration of all those involved.”

The letter also noted that American Legion was specifically exempt from complying with Title IX provisions, which bar discrimination on the basis of sex.

According to Halane, the local legion fully supported Emmet’s participation in the program. However, the state board rejected his application and the national organization communicated that decision. Other camps have since reached out offering Emmet space in their programs.

In the meantime, American Legion could be considering a policy change as early as this year. Plenzler said organization’s executive committee will meet this spring and weigh a transgender policy.

“This is going to be an issue that is going to be discussed in May,” Plenzler wrote. “We get together. We have this National Executive Committee, and that has representatives from each state in the nation.”

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