Jordan School District transgender student speaks out as adults debate school bathroom use

Fox Hollow Elementary School student Alison Sirivanchi approached the podium at the Jordan School District board meeting Tuesday night with her father, Jesse, at her side.

The 11-year-old wore a blue dress with pink and white flowers as she stood in front of the room of adults, including parents of other students and Utah State Board of Education board member Natalie Cline. The adults had come to the meeting to demand that the district prevent transgender students like Alison from using school bathrooms that match their gender identity.

“I just want the space and acceptance that I have for myself,” Alison said. “As far back as I can remember, I always chose dresses, makeup, wigs and dolls.”

Most adults who addressed district officials during the meeting expressed concern about potential safety issues if “biological boys” were allowed into a girls’ restroom.

In a statement this week, Jordan School District officials said transgender students are allowed to use any restroom that matches their gender identity under Title IX of federal law.

“The district works with individual families to provide a safe and welcoming environment for every student,” said spokeswoman Sandra Reisgraf. “Anyone who has concerns about any issue at a school is encouraged to contact the principal.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kaylee Nielson shows her support for Alison as she sits with her father Jesse Sirivanchi at the Jordan School District board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023.

To the packed room on Tuesday, Alison said that when her “loving mother” curled her hair for the first time, “I looked in the mirror.” [and] I wanted to cry because I didn’t see the person I was supposed to be, but the person I am.”

“Because when I imagined myself as an adult,” Alison continued, “I saw a woman in a white dress dancing through a field of flowers. And when I see that, I know that’s me.”

Title IX prohibits, with certain exceptions, any institution that receives “federal financial assistance” from discriminating against any person on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities.

Cline argued that the district was misinterpreting the law.

“Efforts are underway to impose a radical reinterpretation of Title IX, which already removes physical protections for ‘biological girls,'” Cline said. “This school’s non-compliant policies force girls who don’t feel comfortable sharing their bathrooms with boys to feel like they are somehow in the wrong or to feel guilty for feeling that way. This is psychologically abusive to our girls.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Supporters stand after Jesse and Alison Sirivanchi spoke during the Jordan School District board meeting on Tuesday, September 26, 2023.

Cline was previously criticized for accusing schools of being “complicated in encouraging children into sex trafficking” – a sentiment she reiterated Tuesday night.

“It’s immoral for them [school district] “trying to get girls to override their natural protective instincts in order to keep boys in their private spaces,” Cline said.

Jesse Sirivanchi said his daughter is “abused” almost every day because she is transgender.

“We heard people talking about abuse and what that is,” he said Tuesday night. “We have come here to respond to the chorus of disapproval that is gaining momentum to prevent my daughter’s acceptance into the larger community. …She’s sitting here listening to these words where she’s not accepted for who she is. They want to say she is something she’s not.”

Rob Sivulka, a parent whose daughter attends Fox Hollow, said he’s not as concerned about Alison as he is about others who may claim to be transgender with the intent to hurt girls.

“I don’t know this kid,” Sivulka said of Alison, confusing her with possibly being “totally harmless.”

“But if you have a policy that says, ‘Well, go ahead; “Use the toilet,” Sivulka continued, “you’re making yourself vulnerable to sexual assault.” You’re opening yourself up to Peek Toms; for voyeurism.”

School board members took no immediate action.

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Education expanded the definition of “sex discrimination” to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The change came after a landmark Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Supreme Court found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination “on the basis of sex,” also protects employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Still, the question of whether banning transgender students from using restrooms that match their gender identity violates Title IX has divided courts across the country, according to a research report from the Congressional Research Service.

Utah currently has no state laws restricting transgender people’s access to restrooms. However, about a dozen other states have such laws, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an independent, nonprofit think tank.

State law provides that public facilities in Utah may not be prohibited from adopting “reasonable rules and policies identifying gender-specific facilities, including restrooms…provided that the employer’s rules and policies adopted under this section are appropriate to all employees.” Provide accommodations based on gender identity.”

Sirivanchi said Alison was like any other child.

“If you knew her all her life, you would know that she is exactly what she has always been,” he said. “She has no allegations of robbery or invasion of privacy. There’s no problem…She doesn’t intend to hurt other people’s children.”

— This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Justin Scaccy

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