After a months-long battle, a trans boy named Vinnie Holt has successfully motivated his high school to adopt transgender-affirmative bathroom policies in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In March 2016, legislators in North Carolina passed HB2, a law that prevents trans people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity. Although HB2 was eventually repealed following nationwide outcry, it’s far from an anomaly: To date, 16 states have considered similar legislation.
Under the Trump administration, the rights of trans students like Vinnie hang in the balance. In March of this year, the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a trans teen from Virginia who was fighting for the right to use the boy’s bathroom at his public school. That cause would have had massive implications for the transgender community—if Gavin won, it would have set a national precedent for trans rights. At the last minute, however, the Court decided not to hear the case, citing the Trump administration’s decision to roll back federal protections for trans students. Without clear guidance, it has become easier for schools to shirk their responsibility to trans students, or even to discriminate against them with impunity.
Vinnie was caught in this legal confusion: His school did not initially act to protect him, he says, because administrators were fearful of breaking the law. This left him in a precarious and frustrating position: Sometimes he would use the boy’s room and it would be fine, but other times, people complained. Although there was one gender-neutral restroom on campus, it was far from his classes, and going there caused him to be late and subsequently reprimanded. There were days when Vinnie avoided using the bathroom altogether. This simple, necessary function in daily life became an enormous disruption that threatened his mental health and his performance at school.
Shortly after the Supreme Court decision, Vinnie began collecting a stack of supportive letters from other students, which he presented to his school principal. He was insistent: Action needed to be taken. Vinnie isn’t the only trans kid at his school, and he wanted to ensure that his school environment was safe and welcoming for students of all gender identities.
In the subsequent months, the school administrators actually listened, and Vinnie’s experience changed drastically. There are additional gender-neutral bathrooms across campus, and Vinnie is allowed to use the boys’ room without restriction. The school also adopted a “Gender Support Plan,” working in collaboration with Vinnie, his mother, and a local LGBT community center, which is meant to help gender-nonconforming students to thrive at school, providing formal assistance with name changes, gender identification, and bathroom use.
Vinnie’s mother, Jennifer Holt, has been Vinnie’s fiercest supporter. “I look back and see how many people have worked to pave the way for our family,” she told Broadly in a recent interview. “So much [work has] occurred for Vinnie’s voice to be heard.”
“It’s really great to see the progress that has been made since last school year,” Vinnie said. “It showed me that my hard work did have a hearty reward, and that I do have the power to make change. It’s also important that this happened because it shows other kids like me that the same kind of thing is possible.”
“We may be small, but we made our voices be heard,” Jennifer added.