After the police cruiser pulled away, students turned and started staring at me. Colton moved closer and asked worriedly, “Will you be okay?”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” I replied sadly.
I was surprised when two boys standing nearby approached. Both were in my class, and I had known them since the first grade. “Listen, Jacob,” said Melvin. “I know if doesn’t mean much, but if there is anything we can do, just ask. Okay?”
I nodded my head. Larry, the other boy, patted me on my back, and they turned and walked away. Over the next ten minutes, several other students approached and gave me words of encouragement. I noticed that students also surrounded Tiffany and Jerome. I smiled when I noticed four students give her a hug before they walked away.
When we heard the bell ring inside the building announcing that school was over, many students rushed off to get on their buses. I was surprised, however, when about forty students remained behind. Matt walked around and thanked them for participating.
I heard one boy say excitedly, “Man, this is the most exciting thing that has happened here in years! I’m glad to be a part of it!”
I walked over to Matt and asked him, “Why do you think they did it? They seemed to hate Tiffany just the other day.” I was curious since students seemed to have been making fun of Tiffany since she enrolled in the school. I couldn’t understand their sudden change in attitude.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “I think last week she was the flavor of the week.”
“What’s that mean?”
“She was new,” he replied. “It gave students something different to talk about. Then, when they saw the sheriff’s men enter the building with tear gas, it made them realize just how bad things had become.” He looked around at the students and added, “Your father had a lot to do with it too.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think they realized how far things had gotten out of hand,” he said. “Tiffany was no longer the threat. She was one of us. Your father was the real threat.”
I looked over at Tiffany as she stood talking to a few students. I found it ironic that my father was the one responsible for changing people’s attitudes; however, not the way he expected.
When Mrs. Edwards exited the building with Sheriff Tackett, everyone sat down and huddled together. We weren’t sure what was going to happen. Since no deputies accompanied them, we were pretty certain that there would be no violence. Besides, television trucks were parked across the street recording every movement.
Mrs. Edward walked over and stood before Matt and Colton’s father. We couldn’t hear what was being said, but a minute later, Matt and Mr. Wilder rose and followed Mrs. Edwards into the building.
“What’s going on?” asked Colton.
I replied, “I don’t know.” Tiffany and Jerome scooted to us, and we talked about what was happening inside.
“I hope they don’t get arrested,” remarked Jerome.
Before anyone could respond, we noticed two ice cream trucks pull into the parking lot. The attendants got out and approached us carrying several large boxes.
“Free ice cream for everyone,” cheerfully announced one of the boys as he began to walk around the group and hand out ice cream sandwiches. “Compliments of Nathan’s Ice Cream.”
When the boy handed Colton one, he asked, “Can I have another?” The boy smiled, reached into the box and handed him another.
As I watched Colton shove one in his mouth, he asked, “What? These Nathan ice cream sandwiches are good!”
“You’re a pig,” I laughed as he opened the second and devoured it within seconds.
We sat around and waited for about a half hour before Mr. Wilder and Matt emerged from the building. They were alone, and no one was following behind them.
They approached us, and we gathered to hear what they had to say. Mr. Wilder spoke first. “We just had a meeting with Mrs. Edwards and four members of the School Board. Mr. Steele and Mr. Jacobsen were not invited.”
Colton asked, “What happened, Dad?” Mr. Wilder looked at Matt and nodded his head.
“They made a proposal,” Matt said. “We’ve come out here to give you the details. If you approve them, then we are to go back inside. If not, then we’ll stay out here.”
Mrs. Martin asked, “What are the details?” Matt asked us to sit closely together while he told us what Mrs. Edwards and the Board had agreed to.
“The prior agreement about no one being arrested or no students being suspended still stands,” he informed us. “If you want, you can get up and go home.”
Jerome hollered out, “What about Tiffany?”
Mr. Wilder stepped forward and looked down at Tiffany, her mother and Mrs. Oliver. “We did reach an agreement,” he said. “It’s not the one we would have liked to have had, but they did make some concessions.”
“What concessions?” asked Jerome.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you how sensitive an issue this is,” replied Mr. Wilder. “Places all over the county are dealing with the issue of transgendered students using restrooms.”
Jerome interrupted and asked, “What concessions, Mr. Wilder?”
Mr. Wilder look down at Tiffany. “Mrs. Edwards has a private bathroom located in the hallway outside her office. She has agreed to make it a unisex bathroom for all students. It has a lock, and she will provide a key to anyone who asks for one. She will be able to closely monitor who goes in and out to insure students’ safety.” He looked down at Tiffany and said, “It’s the best we can do at this time. Mrs. Edwards assures us that they will make plans for a larger bathroom, perhaps the one we were in earlier, to be turned into a unisex bathroom for all students, maybe as early as next year.”
Matt reached into his pocket, pulled out a key and handed it to Tiffany. “Mrs. Edwards asked me to give you this.”
Matt looked at Tiffany and said, “We did get what we wanted. We wanted you to have a safe place to go to if you needed. You won’t have to worry about being sexually harassed. And remember, it will be available to any student, not just you. Other students won’t feel like they are being discriminated against.”
Mrs. Oliver asked, “What about Steele and Jacobsen? Will they agree to this?”
“It doesn’t matter,” answered Mr. Wilder. “We have the assurance of four other board members. They hold the majority vote, and they already voted.”
Mr. Wilder looked around the group. “Why don’t the adults walk away to the side. This is your school, and your decision. Whatever you decide, we’ll back you.” He nodded to Mrs. Martin and Mrs. Oliver. They turned and walked about ten yards away and sat down on a bench.
Matt looked at us and asked, “Well, Guys, what do you think?”
We spent the next fifteen minutes discussing the situation. Most agreed that it was a sensible solution. Others, however, felt that it didn’t go far enough in resolving the problem. Terry Lofton, editor of the school newspaper, thought that since we had the nation’s attention, we should make a bolder statement. He felt that every restroom should be unisex.
Matt disagreed. “It won’t work, right now,” he said. “Even companies and businesses are having trouble pushing for all unisex bathrooms. They would never allow it to happen in a school today.” Most students, including myself, agreed with Matt.
Finally, Matt looked over at Tiffany. “This really is your call,” he said. “We’re all out here because we support you.” He looked around at the forty students sitting in front of him. “I don’t know about the others, but I’ll back you whatever your decision is.”
A wave of pride swept over me, and tears filled my eyes. Tiffany had come so far since that day she got on the bus and was laughed and ridiculed by other students. Darryl Standifer wasn’t standing before her mocking her for the way she dressed. Instead, Matt, one of the most respected student in our school, was offering his unconditional support. And not just him, but many more students were willing to support her.
I looked over at Tiffany, and our tear-filled eyes met. Like me, I think she was overcome with emotion over the outpouring of support she was receiving. She fell against Jerome and started crying. Several students sitting beside her rubbed her back and offered her words of support.
After a minute, she regained her composure and stood before the group. She wiped away tears as she smiled at all the smiling faces in front of her.
“I don’t know what to say,” she began as she wiped tears from her face. “I wish every transgendered person could feel the love I’m feeling right now.” She stopped and wiped more tears from her eyes. “Maybe they wouldn’t feel so all alone,” she cried.
“I want to thank each of you today for what you have done for me,” she continued. “But not just for me, but for everyone who respects the rights of all individuals, whether straight, gay or transgendered.” She wiped more tears from her eyes. “I could never tell you what I’m feeling in my heart at this moment.”
She looked down at me, Jerome, Colton and Cathy and spoke, “I’ll never forget the support you have given me when no one else would.” She started to cry harder as she said, “You kept me going when I didn’t think I wanted to go on any longer.” Jerome rose and pulled Tiffany into a tight embrace as she continued to cry.
After a minute, she wiped her eyes and regained her composure. She smiled down at the group and continued. “All I wanted was a safe place to use the bathroom. I didn’t want to be afraid to go into a room and risk being verbally abused or even physically hurt. I believe that Mrs. Edwards’s offer will protect me and other students who fear being ridiculed or injured.” She looked over and Matt and stated, “I think we should accept their recommendation.”
Matt asked, “Are you sure, Tiffany?” She nodded, and he walked over and gave her a hug. Others stood and started hugging one another.
We had won the battle. There was still a war that had to be fought until everyone achieved freedom from discrimination and abuse. However, for our school, the battle was over. Without thinking, I reached over and kissed Colton with forty students watching.
Students soon began to disperse. Many would approach Tiffany and speak briefly to her before leaving. She seemed so happy with the support she was receiving. A couple of girls approached Colton and me and kidded us about the kiss. Colton handled it well, but I couldn’t have been more embarrassed.
The news trucks and reporters were also leaving. I guess since it didn’t look like the sheriff was going to tear gas us, then they wouldn’t have anything exciting to report. Before leaving, a couple of reporters did holler out Tiffany’s name and motion for her to walk over for an interview, but she ignored them.
Soon, the only people remaining were Colton, Tiffany, Jerome, Matt and me. Mr. Wilder, Mrs. Oliver and Mrs. Martin soon joined us. We talked about what happened, and we were still concerned about Tiffany’s feelings.
“I’m fine, really,” she assured us as we gathered around her. She looked at Jerome, smiled and said, “You can stop worrying.”
We looked over when we saw a student come running out of the building towards us. He stopped before Matt and announced that Mrs. Edwards wanted us to join her inside. We followed Matt and Mr. Wilder into the building.
Mrs. Edwards was sitting in the conference room with four people I didn’t recognized. Sheriff Tackett and two deputies were standing against the wall. Mrs. Edwards pointed to three chairs and asked Colton’s father, Mrs. Martin and Mrs. Oliver to have a seat. She apologized that there weren’t enough chairs for everyone. Mr. Wilder moved aside and told Tiffany to sit beside her mother.
Mrs. Edwards introduced the other people sitting as board members. “Mr. Steele and Mr. Jacobsen chose not to be here,” she explained. She once again reiterated the compromise that had been made. She looked at Tiffany, smiled and asked, “Is this acceptable to you?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” replied Tiffany. “At least I’ll be safe.”
Mrs. Edwards looked at the board members and nodded her head. “That is all any of us wanted.” I wanted to disagree and say that Mr. Steele and Mr. Jacobsen disagreed, but I didn’t.
“One other thing,” responded Mrs. Edwards. “Several students came to me yesterday and told me how Darryl Standifer has been harassing you.” She looked sympathetically at Tiffany and said, “You should have come to me and told me what was happening.” Tiffany hung her head and didn’t respond. I was tempted to speak up and tell her that it was her duty to know about it, but I didn’t. The purpose of the meeting was to heal wounds, not open old ones.
She looked at Colton and frowned. “Why didn’t you tell me you hurt your hand hitting the locker when you got into a confrontation with Darryl?”
Colton shrugged his shoulders and said, “It wasn’t really a fight. I just lost my temper.”
“I’ve spoken to Darryl and his parents,” she announced. “I’ve also talked to Coach Vargas. If Darryl so much as looks at you cross eyed, he’ll be suspended from school, and Coach Vargas will remove him from the basketball team.” She smiled warmly at Tiffany and said, “I don’t think you have to worry about him anymore.”
Mrs. Edwards spent the next few minutes discussing how the demonstration should be handled as far as the media was concerned. “I can’t tell you what to do,” she said as she looked around the group. “All I can say is I hope that you consider any fallout your comments could have for our school.”
She looked over at Matt and Mr. Wilder. “I have scheduled a press conference for seven o’clock at the Board of Education,” she stated. “I would hope that you would attend as spokesmen for the students.” Matt and Mr. Wilder looked at each other and then nodded their heads.
She looked around the room. “As for the rest of you students, I can’t tell you not to attend. However, it is my duty to protect you. I feel that it would be better if just Mr. Wilder and Matt were present to speak on your behalf.” She shook her head sorrowfully and said, “We’ve had enough excitement around her for the past two days. I’d like to prevent anymore disruptions. It is your decision, though.”
After adjourning the meeting, she had Tiffany follow her to the bathroom that had been designated for her and other students to use. She again explained that it had been her personal bathroom, but she was happy to let others use it. “It’s silly that it stays empty most of the day.” Tiffany nodded when Mrs. Edwards asked her if she had received her key.
“Tomorrow, I’m going to start meeting with the maintenance department to see what changes have to be made in order to provide a unisex bathroom,” she stated. “I’ll put it in the budget for next year to have any alterations that might be needed.”
Before leaving, she pulled Tiffany into a tight embrace. “I’m glad you won, Dear,” she said. “I know at times it didn’t appear that way, but I was fighting a battle with several opposing sides.”
After Mrs. Edwards and the board members left, everyone turned to Mr. Wilder to see what we should do next. “I don’t know about you,” he laughed, “but I’m going home and take a long, hot shower.”
“Me, too,” said Cathy as she smelled her underarm.
Colton giggled and said, “You know what I have to do.” Everyone broke out in laughter.
* * * * * * * *
Things at school began to return to normal. For a few days, media trucks would be stationed outside on the street in an attempt to get students’ reaction to our protest. A few students made uninformed responses, but most just walked past and refused to be interviewed.
Inside, students were getting used to seeing Tiffany in the hall and classes, and they didn’t react to her presence as much as they had. That is not to say there wasn’t an occasional rude or offensive comment directed towards her. However, unlike in the past, other students would quickly come to her defense.
Colton and I were becoming closer. I found myself spending more and more time at his house after school. His parents sat down one night with his younger brothers and sisters and explained about our relationship, and that Colton was gay. His brother, Bryan, who was ten, wanted to know if we were doing the nasty yet.
We weren’t. It was no longer a matter of feeling that my sexuality was sinful. I just felt that we were too young to become seriously involved. We would feel on each other when making out, but I was careful not to get too involved. I know it frustrates Colton, but he understands. He’s constantly kidding me about all the cold showers he has to take after I leave. I know one day we’ll express our love for each other, but I want to wait until I’m comfortable to do it. I don’t think it will take too long.
One night, I was alone in my room working on a homework assignment for English when someone knocked on my door. “Come in!” I hollered out, expecting Colton or Tiffany to visit me. Instead, it was Mrs. Oliver.
She sat down on the bed beside me with a worried look on her face. “What’s wrong?” I asked. I could tell by the expression on her face that something had happened.
My heart stopped beating when she informed me, “Your mother is out in the parlor. She wants to talk to you.”
I jumped from the bed and shouted, “No! I don’t want to see her.”
I had been staying with Mrs. Oliver for almost two months. Not once in that time had she or my father attempted to talk to me. The last time I saw either of them was at the disturbance that night at the Board meeting. It was the next day that my father had been put in handcuffs and taken away in a cruiser. That was three weeks ago, and I hadn’t heard anything about either of them.
Mrs. Oliver patted my hand and said worriedly, “She’s crying, Dear. I think you should talk to her.”
“I don’t want to,” I insisted. “Neither her or my father love me anymore.” I continued to pace angrily around the room. “I’m not going back there!” I could feel tears starting to well up in my eyes. I walked over, looked down at Mrs. Oliver and pleaded, “Please, let me stay here!”
She rose and embraced me. “Of course you can stay here,” she assured me.
I pulled away and asked, “Then why is my mother here?”
A worried smile appeared as she replied, “You won’t know until you talk to her.”
I continued to pace around the room. I felt it would be too emotional to see my mother again. After she and my father rejected me weeks ago, I no longer felt any love for either of them.
I turned when I heard someone knock gently on the door. My mother was standing in the doorway sobbing. She looked tired and depressed. It appeared as though she hadn’t slept in days.
“May I come in,” she pleaded weakly as she looked at me. Mrs. Oliver rose from the bed and patted my arm.
“Hear what she has to say, Bobby,” she said before exiting the room. When my mother sat on the bed beside me, I got up and walked to the other side of the room.
I asked angrily, “What are you doing here?”
I felt as though my heart was going to break when she started sobbing. “I know you hate me!” she cried. “You have every right.” She fell over onto the bed and loudly wept. I stood motionless, unsure what to do.
Finally, I walked over to the dresser, removed some tissue from the box and handed her a few. She took them and wiped the tears from her eyes.
I asked again, “What are you doing here, Mother?” I walked away to the other side of the room, turned and stated adamantly, “If you’ve come to take me home, I’m not going.”
She looked up at me, daubed tears from her eyes and sadly announced, “Your father and I are leaving.”
“What?” I replied excitedly. “Where are you going?”
She sighed, wiped more tears from her eyes and then told me the reason they were moving. “Your father has resigned his position as pastor of the church,” she informed me. She then explained how he had taken another pastoral position at a church in Kansas.
“Kansas!” I said excitedly. “That’s like six hundred miles away.”
“I know,” she replied. “But he thinks it is time to share the word of God someplace else.”
I paced around the room, occasionally stopping to look down at my mother. Surprisingly, I felt no remorse for her or my father. I was worried that they would force me to move to Kansas with them.
Finally, I stopped, looked down and asked, “What is going to happen to me? You’re not going to force me to come with you, are you? If you try, I won’t go.”
She started to cry once more. I walked over and looked out the window, listening to her loud sobs. After several minutes, her crying subsided. “No, Dear,” she remarked sadly. “I’m going to talk to Mrs. Oliver and work out some arrangement for you to stay here at least until you graduate. After that, you’ll be on your own.”
I don’t know why, but suddenly I started laughing. My mother gave me a puzzled look. I asked, “So you’re just going to walk away and pretend like you don’t even have a son?”
She started to cry as she responded, “You’ll always be my son, Jacob, but…”
I interrupted her before she could continue, “But I’m gay?”
“You know how your father feels about that,” she sadly replied.
“What about you, Mother? How do you feel about that?”
She looked up and started to reply, “The Bible says…”
“But what do you say, Mother?”
She stood, walked over to me, kissed my cheek and said tearfully, “I’ll be praying for you, Dear.”
And with that, she walked out of my life.
* * * * * * * *
“Children of God,” said Reverend Miles as he looked out onto the congregation and smiled. “I want you to stand and turn to those around you. Hug him or her and tell them you love them.”
Colton and I rose from the pew, smiled at each other and embraced. I then turned to my left and hugged Mrs. Oliver. “Thank you,” I whispered softly into her ear, and then I added, “I love you.” She nodded before turning and hugging Jerome and Tiffany. For the next several minutes, members of the congregation wandered around the church and embraced one another.
For several weeks, I had managed to avoid Mrs. Oliver’s insistence that I attend the church she had joined after leaving my father’s. Every Sunday, she would relate the message of love that Reverend Miles would deliver that morning.
“You would like him,” she would say. “He’s a young man, and he preaches the Gospel like Jesus would want it to be preached.” She had convinced Tiffany and Jerome to attend. I finally relented, but only if Colton would join me.
Now, I looked forward to the Sunday sermons. Slowly, I was regaining the faith I had lost. After one Sunday sermon, Reverend Miles approached Colton and me, and he asked if we would meet privately with him in his office.
I sat nervously across from him. Colton was beside me, and I wanted to reach out and hold his hand, but I resisted doing so. Reverend Miles smiled warmly at us and said, “I’m glad you boys have decided to attend the church. So many young people are leaving today.”
He looked at me and said, “Bobby, I understand what you have had to endure the past few months. You’ve carried a great burden on your shoulders.” Colton looked over and noticed tears welling up in my eyes. He reached out and took my hand in his. I looked to see Reverend Miles reaction, but he said nothing.
“I want you to know, Bobby and Colton, that my door is always open to you. Your journey together will be long and difficult. I’ve told Tiffany and Jerome the same thing.
“But understand that your road is not one you’ll walk alone. You have friends who will walk it with you. You have a church here that understands and supports you.” He stood and walked around his desk. When Colton and I stood, he embraced us. He then took a step back, reached down, took our hands and then he entwined them.
“Walk in peace and with faith,” he said with a smile, “and love one another."