Local mother of transgender child speaks out

Published: Oct. 30, 2017 at 12:53 PM EDT
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It has been a heated debate in one Mid Michigan community all year - . whether or not a school district should allow a transgender student to use the bathroom of his choice. It's happening in Grass Lake and the issue has packed school board meeting after school board meeting.

At the center of the controversy is Terri Neely’s 5th grader. Her 10-year-old son is transgender. Two years ago, Cruz was in second grade and living as a girl.

“When Cruz was three we knew that she-back then, April- didn’t fit into the traditional three year old girl box. But that doesn't matter to us, it didn't matter to us it was like okay great you like superheroes you like sports you don't like dolls you don't like pink things, that doesn't matter, great that's super cool let's roll. You know you don't think twice about it."

But as Cruz got older, it became more and more clear that something was different.

"When she went to preschool and went to go play with the boys and the boys said 'you can't play with us, you're a girl!' And I think that was the first time that he really realized wait a minute it's not just someone saying I'm a girl or a boy it's not just a word it actually means something to other people. I mean he couldn't articulate that or express that in a meaningful way when he was four almost five but you could see that this light started to go on and things started to change as far as how he wanted to present himself," Neely said.

Some people have made it clear they are against the move to allow Neely’s son into the bathroom and locker rooms that he identifies with. Others say it’s too young for a child to know they aren’t a specific gender.

Therapist Travis Johnson explains, “I think it can start very early in development, and I like the idea that when these things happen that parents engage with curiosity and they don't like shut down those behaviors."

Johnson helps families understand gender identity and he understands it can be a hard process. He suggests parents ask questions.

"Tell me more about what's going on. Tell me what draws you to this truck, or this tool set or this Barbie," said Johnson. "Parents want to position themselves as a resource, as someone who's safe that their child can rely on, when there's a lot of stress when there's a crisis, and so by building that open, supportive communication, that's one of the ways to do that."

Neely says allowing her child to be who he wants to be has been a life saver.

"He used to say, I don't want to go to school tomorrow, I wish I didn't have to wake up tomorrow, I wish I wish I wish this wasn't my life,” Neely said. “And now he wakes up and he's like - great what are we going to do today? What are we going to do tomorrow? And this excitement and this joy that he has. It's proof that this is what he needs."

Neely said she understands why not everyone can relate but she wants them to be sympathetic if nothing else. "Did we expect this? No. Did we plan for it? Did we want it? No. But you know you do what's best for your child. You learn about it. You educate yourself, your friends your family, and you move forward."

Grass Lake school board did vote to allow Cruz to use the boys bathroom and to protect him from any bullying and harassment. Groups that oppose the vote have continued to write letters, protest and speak out against the decision.

Check the related stories links for more stories regarding this issue.

Click on the link provided to be taken to the National Center for Transgender Equality website for more information.

For local resources in mid-Michigan, you can click on

. It has information for support for transgender individuals and families along with much more information.

"Clear non-discrimination laws covering gender identity and expression are an important part of the solution because they can help stop the discrimination before it happens. Clear laws often cause businesses to have policies against discrimination and train employees to follow those policies. At this point, much protection can also be found under state and federal sex discrimination law as well." 

National Center for Transgender Equality