A West Virginia school official has been temporarily suspended after allegedly cornering a transgender student in the bathroom and demanding him to “come out here and use the urinal.”
The Daily Beast reports that Lee Livengood, assistant principal at Liberty High School, has been suspended without pay until 2019. The West Viriginia MetroNews first reported the alleged incident, which took place after school on November 27.
Sophomore Michael Critchfield told the West Virginia MetroNews that he was using an unoccupied men’s bathroom when Livengood began harassing him:
“He kept asking me why I was in there. (He said) I shouldn’t be in there because I am not a guy, and I told him I am a boy, I identify with this bathroom, and it is my legal right to use this restroom,” he said.
Critchfield said Livengood continued to harass and intimidate him, ultimately challenging him to use a urinal to prove that he was a boy.
“He was blocking the doorway so I couldn’t get out because if I tried to get out through the doorway he was in front of, he could’ve said that I hit him or something and got me in more trouble,” Critchfield said. At the end of the encounter, Critchfield says he recalls Livengood saying, “Not going to lie. You freak me out,” in front of the other students and an adult chaperone.
Harrison County Superintendent Dr. Mark Manchin said that the district is investigating the incident. “I was able to confirm the interaction with Mr. Livengood and that indeed he acted inappropriately,” he told the MetroNews. “We need to address it and we will address it.” However, he does not believe that a high-ranking school official allegedly barricading a student in a bathroom because he is trans is indicative of broader anti-trans bias at the school, claiming that “right now I do not believe the necessity of any additional policies or any protections for any students that we do not already have.”
The West Virginia chapter of the ACLU disagrees, and is sending Liberty High School a letter regarding the incident and requests a meeting to discuss ways to improve the culture at the school, citing “pretty consistent incidents of teachers, administrators and school personnel intentionally misgendering him, intentionally using a name that he does not use” and creating a hostile environment at the school.
“I can’t believe we have to say this, but no child regardless of their gender identity should be subject of harassment and intimidation by a school official,” ACLU-WV Executive Director Joseph Cohen told the MetroNews. “West Virginia students deserve a safe environment to learn and grow as young adults, and the truth is, this is a matter of life and death.”
According to a survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than half of transgender teenage boys reported attempting suicide, and many transgender youth face rejection, bullying, and harassment over their identity.
Cohen said that Liberty High School has “an ongoing problem” accepting and respecting LGBTQ rights. “The incident that Michael went through shows very clearly that our schools are not doing a good job training their administrators and teachers, and they’re not doing a good job protecting their students,” he said.