It’s not just the pink and blue streaks in 9-year-old Avery Jackson’s hair that made her stand out in a Missouri Senate committee meeting — though they certainly helped.
It’s also that, after the Kansas City girl’s recent appearance on the cover of National Geographic Magazine, she’s one of the most recognizable transgender people in the world and a national symbol for transgender rights.
But, she says, she’s no celebrity.
“I’m just a kid,” she told The Star after the hearing, as she stood in the Capitol with her parents and brother. “I’m an Avery, but there’s many Averys.”
Many Averys — many young, transgender students, some of whom appeared Tuesday before the Senate committee. Many Averys who, alongside the Jackson family, testified against a bill that would require students in Missouri public schools to use bathrooms, locker rooms and shower room facilities that align with their biologically assigned sex.
The Senate bill defines “biological sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s chromosomes, and is identified at birth by a person’s anatomy and indicated on their birth certificate.”
If students say their gender identity is different from their biological gender, schools can accommodate them with single-stall restrooms or let them use faculty facilities. Parents must give permission for an accommodation to be made.
Alissa Johnson, a volunteer for Concerned Women for America, testified Tuesday that the bill would help to keep her 10-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son comfortable and safe at school.
“I feel like if they had to share a bathroom with someone of the opposite biological sex, they would be horrified,” Johnson said. “And that’s probably an understatement.”
Johnson said the bill comes down to a matter of privacy and maintaining the safety of biologically male and female students.
But several transgender students testified that their personal well-being would be at risk if the bill becomes law.
This is the second year that Sen. Ed Emery, a Lamar Republican, has filed this bill. Last year, it did not receive a hearing.
Similar legislation has been filed in the House.
Emery said the bill would allow for continuity in the way the state has always handled gendered facilities.
“ ‘Gender identity’ is this new term that we came up with. We may end up with a dozen more gender identities over time,” Emery said. “But wherever it ends up, we’re going to be consistent” in preserving safety and privacy in public schools.
Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat, asked Emery if he thought the bill might be perceived as hateful or unwelcoming to members of the transgender community.
“What is your response to those students who feel like legislation such as this makes them less safe or makes them more of a target and brings them more unwanted scrutiny?” Holsman asked.
Emery said every student is affected and the safety of the majority who are not transgender should be considered.
Since Avery’s appearance in National Geographic, her mom, Debi Jackson, has been doing public appearances and advocacy on national transgender rights. But she wanted to make sure lawmakers in her home state understood that her daughter’s life, and the lives of other transgender students, are greatly influenced by what they do.
“I always try to make sure people understand we are still working for our own equality right here, and that we still have so much to do here,” Jackson said. “That even though they think we’re this really cool, hip family, we struggle because of things like this in our everyday life.”