On a Wednesday night, in a bright room among half a dozen volunteers at the ACLU of Alaska in Anchorage, Col Lockard sits alone at a table and picks up his phone.
He’s an introvert, so one one might imagine that dialing strangers across the city for a phone bank might be a challenge.
But he’s at the front of this fight. In fact, he’s the face of it. He’s the center of a commercial against Proposition 1, the most extreme anti-trans measure the country has seen yet, which Anchorage voters are in the midst of deciding on by mail right now.
The measure seeks to roll back the city’s 2015 anti-discrimination law and mandate that people in Anchorage use the gendered bathroom corresponding with their original birth certificate, regardless of their updated documents or lived experiences. That means trans men presenting as male would be breaking the law of the they used the men’s restroom.
Lockard would be among them, at least until he goes to college. He’s a senior at East High School. He came out as a trans four years ago.
“I was like, ‘If my school responds badly, I’m going to take them to court; I’m going to go all the way,’” he says, laughing. “They were excellent, and this wasn’t anything new.”
Anchorage School District (ASD) boasts a 10-page exhaustive policy on transgender and gender-nonconforming students and employees. Among other things, it mandates that students be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity, that school IDs reflect their preferred names and pronouns, that administrators and staff respect names and pronouns, that staff are careful to respect the privacy of trans students and their identities, that kids and staff have access to separate locker rooms and bathrooms if they wish and that schools work to build more gender-neutral facilities.
The policy requires that students be allowed to participate in intramural sports and activities in accordance with their identities. And it makes clear that students can express gender how they want in the way they dress.
“In ASD, all students are treated with dignity and respect,” says ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop in an email to INTO. “We focus on the education, safety and well-being of students, taking the safety of students and staff as our top priority.”
It is in this environment that Lockard came out and transitioned.
At a February school board meeting, Lockard reflected on this welcoming environment. Shyly looking down at his notes, he told administrators that he feared Prop. 1 would force him into the girl’s restroom at school.
Lockard wasn’t alone. Three other students asked the administration to condemn Prop. 1. None spoke out in favor of the measure.
Bishop, a school administrator, noted that she couldn’t side on political issues.
As a public entity, the district must follow the law, she said. But she noted that even before having a transgender policy, the district took care of transgender students.
“Consequently, the enforcement of this policy isn’t possible,” Bishop said. “We will not, I can’t imagine, we will not, stand guard at our restroom doors. So as we move forward and learn what this brings to us, we are keeping student safety in mind as you’ve heard this evening. There is nothing in the budget that moves forward anyone to play the role of law enforcement in the restroom.”
Anchorage School Board Member Starr Marsett said she wanted to echo those comments.
“All students are welcome at ASD,” she told the crowd. “And we want to make sure that all students are safe and treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”
School Board Member Andy Holleman added that the district has dealt with trans issues for 20 years now.
“We don’t seem to have incidents as far as I know,” he said.
Those comments align with a February editorial by former ASD Superintendent Carol Comeau in the Anchorage Daily News.
“It is not true that the current law allows men to simply dress up as women to enter women’s restrooms,” Comeau wrote. “It is not true that the current law makes it more permissible for someone to harass anyone in public facilities. The debate over Proposition 1 too often glosses over real individuals, I suspect because many Anchorage residents have not interacted with transgender people in a meaningful way.”
At the end of the school board meeting, Bishop concluded that it’s simply not an issue in schools.
For the most part, that has been true for CJ Gillis, a genderqueer senior at Polaris K-12. He started questioning his gender at age 13. His parents struggled at first to understand his gender identity, but now they’re some of the most vocal advocates against Prop. 1.
Gillis worries about what Prop. 1 would mean for Anchorage.
“I think I’ll be okay,” he says. “I’m more worried for my trans peers who don’t pass as well.”
But he also paints an image of his legs dangling below a bathroom stall door in a men’s room. A man notices this, and all of the sudden, he’s outed and at risk. He has that fear now. With Prop. 1, it’s compounded.
“If Prop 1 passes, being trans in Anchorage is going to be a really scary thing,” he says.
So far, in a high school class of 250, Gill says life as a trans person has been pretty palatable. There are four other trans students in his school alone.
“It’s easier than at other schools for the most part,” he says.
It’s important to note that despite Lockard and Gillis’ experiences, research shows LGBTQ youth in Anchorage face high rates of bullying and harassment. A 2012 report by local LGBTQ organization Identity Alaska found that 41 percent of youth there had been bullied in an educational setting, 14 percent by teachers. Of those, 6 percent left school because of it.
Prop. 1 has been sold to voters as a measure to protect children. The “Yes on 1” campaign continually tells stories of girls exposed to “men” in locker rooms, but none of those stories detail actual harm or violence.