Opinion: I’m a Transgender School Official in Arizona and I’m Worried About the Legislature’s Bullying

Protesters of Kentucky Senate bill SB150, known as the Transgender Health Bill, cheer on speakers during a rally on the lawn of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

By Paul Bixler

April 11, 2023

Arizona has a thriving transgender population, and we contribute to our great state as community members, workers, students, colleagues, friends, and family.

I’ve worked in, and advocated for, public schools most of my life. I’m the product of Phoenix’s public schools and have worked in public schools across Arizona and Texas. I was an award-winning wrestling, cross country, and track and field coach, a classroom teacher, a building administrator, even a school principal; I’ve done just about everything but drive the bus!

More recently, since 2020, I’ve served on the governing board of the Liberty Elementary School District, a district that serves more than 4,500 students west of Phoenix. I’m also transgender, and I’m worried about the legislative bullying targeting my community.

Growing up in Arizona, I couldn’t imagine that I would ever be able to come out and transition, to live as my authentic self. I knew in my heart who I was from a young age, even if I did not yet know what the word “transgender” meant, but there weren’t resources or support for me. Today, Arizona has a thriving transgender population, and we contribute to our great state as community members, workers, students, colleagues, friends, and family. All we ask is that people take us for who we are and let us live our lives.

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I don’t know why, but some of our state’s elected officials seem unending in their efforts to write anti-trans discrimination into law. It’s relentless and beyond belief. Right now, there are almost a dozen anti-trans bills advancing through the Arizona State Legislature, including bills that would make it more difficult for trans people to access medically necessary healthcare, bills that would require schools to discriminate against trans students, bills that censor free expression of one’s gender, and more. Any one of these bills could have a devastating impact on Arizona’s transgender community, not to mention our families and friends.

I’m also concerned about the anti-trans actions taking place in school districts across the Grand Canyon State. Mesa Public Schools is being told its trans-inclusive policies are somehow discriminatory. In Chandler, a former teacher is suing a school, saying he was fired for publicly supporting LGBTQ+ students. And every district in the state is facing the possibility of book bans and censorship around LGBTQ identity, as well as books that discuss race and racism. For example, Glendale Union pulled 10 books off the library shelves, most of which were by and about LGBTQ people. 

Still, I’m confident that it’s not the majority of Arizonans that are pushing these anti-transgender policies—it’s a minority of people who, unfortunately, are very well-funded, very loud, and very organized. The trans community is an easy target for them, which is why we need allies and supporters now, more than ever before.

If you’re uncomfortable with transgender identity, I understand that. It takes time to learn something new. But please, give us a chance to correct the misunderstandings about our community. Together, we can build an Arizona where all residents respect each other, a state where all people can thrive.

Born in Akron, Ohio, Paul and her family moved to Phoenix in 1955. After graduating from Phoenix-area public schools and attending Northern Arizona University, Paul enlisted in the United States Navy and served honorably for both the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps. In 1976, after graduating cum laude from Arizona State University’s School of Education, Paul began her 30+ years as a celebrated public school teacher, coach, guidance counselor, building and district administrator. In 2020, Paul won a seat on the Liberty Elementary School District #25 Governing Board, becoming the first transgender woman to hold an elected office in Arizona’s history.

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