Betsy DeVos got some unexpected headlines courtesy of a genderqueer eighth-grader in Michigan Tuesday.
Torin Hodgman, a student at Grand Rapids Public Museum School, decided to sport a trans pride flag during the Education Secretary’s visit.
“Mostly the reason why she travels around to schools like my school is for publicity,” Hodgman told INTO. “I knew that there was going to be media involved, so I thought ‘Hey, I’m going to to wear this. It will show Museum School is accepting to many people and genders.’”
Betsy DeVos, on the other hand, has rolled back Obama-era rules protecting trans students in bathrooms.
And so what was supposed to be a day filled with headlines about DeVos’ stance on school safety instead turned into a story about DeVos trolled by an conscientious eighth-grader.
Hodgman says they came to school prepared to press DeVos on her support for charter schools over public schools, and what she would do to keep LGBTQ students safe. Hodgman never got the chance to ask those questions, however.
According to Hodgman’s mom, Summer Wright, this is not the first time the eighth-grader has been politically or socially active. Hodgman has racked up more than 400 volunteer hours since the fall. They have volunteered for local pride events, worked as a therapy aide with children with developmental disabilities, participated in a civic theatre program, helped Wright as an assistant with public activism classes, worked as an intern curator at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, donated time to the city and volunteered for the city arts festival.
Wright is a lesbian and says her kids have long been exposed to trans and queer people. They were raised to express themselves freely, she says.
“There was never a coming out process,” Wright says. “It was more a discussion and figuring themselves out process.”
On Tuesday, Hodgman put on a karate uniform and then, because it was Spirit Day at school, and because DeVos was coming, Hodgman decided to put on the trans flag.
“We had some conversations about maybe the kinds of questions they could ask or how to respectfully bring up questions they had about protections for all kinds of students at schools,” Wright tells INTO. “It was 6:30 in the morning. I’m like ‘Sure, yeah okay.’”
The video footage from Tuesday morning shows DeVos walking awkwardly alongside Hodgman in a giant trans pride cape. The cape isn’t mentioned, but it’s the star of the show.
Did DeVos know what the trans flag was?
“She definitely noticed it,” Hodgman says. “And I hope she knows what it means. But I don’t know.”