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© 2002, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Hawaii, USA

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Saturday, June 8, 2002

McKinley lets
male-born student
graduate in dress

State attorneys help convince the
principal in a case of gender ID

By Treena Shapiro

Keala Chow Photo: KEN IGE

Keala Chow, 18, recently graduated from McKinley High. Chow was born male but was allowed to wear a dress during graduation ceremonies. Chow has not had an operation but has started taking hormones.

Keala Chow was born a boy, but on Sunday walked with the girls during the McKinley High School graduation, covering up a "very seductive" dress with a graduation gown.
      Chow, 18, began cross-dressing at the age of 10 and has been taking female hormones for the past year. She considers herself a woman.
      As graduation neared, however, she had to convince McKinley High School that she should be treated as a female, regardless of her gender at birth.
      She started with a phone call to the McKinley High School principal, whom she had never met because she fulfilled her graduation requirements through the Adolescent Day Treatment Program.
      "The principal said I would have to walk with the guys, so I called ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on them," she said.
      Chow said she had been following a case on Maui, where the ACLU helped Baldwin High School senior Ivy Kaanana win the right to wear pants instead of a dress under her gown.
      "Having gone through the Maui case made this issue easier to resolve," said ACLU legal director Brent White.
      "We made a phone call to the principal and had Keala's doctor call and explain Keala's gender identity to the school," White said. Ultimately, the state Attorney General's Office resolved the issue with a phone call to the principal, he said.
      "It really wasn't a hard decision," McKinley Principal Milton Shishido said.
      "We do respect the individual, and of course she wanted to graduate as a young lady, and we had some amount of comment that she was medically going through a procedure and thought of herself as a young lady.
      "We certainly did not want to make an issue of it," he added.
      Deputy Attorney General Russell Suzuki said that in Chow's case, and Kaanana's, the principals' decisions showed common sense and level judgment.
      He said these were legitimate gender identity issues, not instances of students trying to defy authority by bending the regulations.
      Chow and Kaanana's victories do not mean that every graduating senior will have the right to choose what to wear under his or her gown, Suzuki cautioned.
      "There's no constitutional right to dress any way they want to dress, and the school can impose regulations so long as they have a rational basis to it."
      Chow knew only one or two people in her graduating class, but she said her appearance at graduation rehearsals did not cause much of a stir.
      "My mind is really stuck as a female, and so when I walk around, I'm comfortable. So I actually mingle with the kids, with the teenagers. I think it went well," she said.
      Chow, who is legally emancipated from her parents, is originally from Molokai and has also lived on Maui and in Los Angeles and South Carolina.
      Yesterday she finished her classes, and she now plans to move to Maui, where she will attend community college. She plans to major in psychology and get a master's degree in social work.