HuffPost is hitting the road this fall to interview people about their hopes, dreams, fears ― and what it means to be American today.
“You’re going to have to hold it,” the teacher said.
But 6-year-old Emma Smith couldn’t.
It was the second time that Emma was forced to urinate on herself while attending Glen Arden Elementary, a small public school tucked away in the rural mountains of Western North Carolina.
When the teacher realized what happened, she walked Emma from the cafeteria to her classroom at the opposite end of Glen Arden to change ― a trek the length of the school’s campus ― while Emma’s urine trickled from her soiled clothing, down her legs and filled her shoes.
When she came home that day with a bag of urine-soaked clothes in tow, it wasn’t difficult for her parents to piece together what happened.
Emma is a transgender child living in a part of America that has become a battleground for transgender rights ― including the right to use the bathroom that corresponds with an individual’s gender identity. First with 2016′s House Bill 2 and now House Bill 142, North Carolina helped galvanize a wave of proposed legislation that has swept the American South, targeting transgender individuals and challenging their right to exist in public spaces.
For Emma and her family, this fight has become tangible and all-consuming over the past year.
HuffPost reached out to Glen Arden Elementary and the Buncombe County School System and asked them to comment on these allegations. Stacia Harris, Director of Communications for Buncombe County Schools, responded with this statement:
Federal law prevents us from publicly discussing the specifics of any student matter. We can say that the Buncombe County School system works to ensure that all students, employees, and visitors feel safe, welcomed, and respected in all of our facilities. Our teachers, administrators, and parents work diligently to address sensitive student issues that are brought to our attention on a case-by-case basis, including issues that are related to transgender students. Individual needs and privacy concerns vary from student to student and we work to accommodate those needs so our students can focus on learning.
But according to the Smiths, from the very first meeting with the principal, it was evident that things were not going to be easy for their family.
“The principal said, ‘Exactly who buys his clothes?’ I said, ‘Of course we do. We’re his parents, we’re going to buy his clothes. We buy all of our kids clothes,’” Amy, who at the time was using male and female pronouns interchangeably to describe Emma, told HuffPost. ”[The principal responded with], ‘You know that you can tell your child to not wear these kind of clothes? He could wear boy clothes,’ and just going on and on.”
The conversation eventually turned to bathrooms ― and the principal brought up House Bill 2.