Emmet Cummings has spent more than half his life dreaming of attending American Legion’s Hawkeye Boys State program. The program’s website boasts that “young men will learn more about city, county and state government in one week than they would in an entire semester of high school.”
At 17, Cummings is a political junkie. The program promises to teach youth about American democracy.
“As you can see, my love of government makes me a hit at parties,” he tells INTO over the phone.
There’s just one problem, at least for the people heading up the program: Cummings is transgender.
His application has raised critical questions for the 100-year-old wartime veterans service organization just a year after the Boy Scouts opened up membership to transgender scouts. American Legion runs a number of youth programs, including its famed baseball program which produced Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly and other baseball legends.
Cumming’s mom, Halane says her son even considered applying for the Hawkeye Girls State program because he was so eager to participate.
“Having transitioned three years ago, he is male in every aspect expect genitalia,” Halane Cummings wrote to American Legion.
But American Legion says they weighed the issued, and found that Emmet is not male.
“The board decided to continue the existing practice of allowing only male participants in the Boys State program,” says 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.”
Emmet Cummings tells INTO he had prepared for the worst but hoped for the best.
“But it still hurts,” he says. “A lot. It made my Monday even worse than it usually is.”
Emmet Cummings has dreamed of attending the weeklong program since age eight. He came out as transgender three years ago and has since transitioned.
Halane Cummings says the local legion has been supportive of her sonit’s the state board that is the problem. A spokesperson for the Iowa American Legion did not respond to a request to comment.
In her letter to Halane Cummings, Druskis notes that American Legion is specifically exempt from Title IX provisions, which bar discrimination on the basis of sex.
But Joe Plenzler, director of media relations for American Legion National Headquarters, says change could be coming. Currently, the American Legion doesn’t currently have a transgender policy. Plenzler notes that unlike the military, the organization works a “in a bottom up” fashion, with local posts setting policy. The organization’s executive committee will come together this spring and weigh a policy, Plenzler says.
“This is going to be an issue that is going to be discussed in May,” Plenzler says. “We get together. We have this National Executive Committee, and that has representatives from each state in the nation.”
“They come together essentially quarterly to discuss policy, provide guidance and things like that,” he continues. “So I’m eager to see what the discussion is and what the outcomes are of that meeting.”
Plenzler could not say if the discussion was a response to Emmet Cumming’s application.
“The overall guidance to all of our posts is to work to make every accommodation, to make sure everyone has a good memorable time when they come to our youth events, whether that’s a speech contest, a youth baseball program,” Plenzler says.
As for Emmet, Halane Cummings is still hoping for a different story for her son.
“If they were to say ‘Hey, we changed our minds, Emmet can come,’ that would be awesome,” she says. “But if they don’t, Emmet would like to be the reason that the next kid in line is able to attend because he has stood up and fought the fight.”