Frustrated N.J. Transgender Teacher to Retire

When word got out that Mr. McBeth, a popular substitute teacher at two southern New Jersey school districts was about to come back to class as Miss McBeth, it caused an uproar.

The former William McBeth had undergone sex reassignment surgery and was now Lily McBeth. The schools' 2006 decisions to keep her on as a substitute were hailed around the nation as a model of tolerance and acceptance of transgender Americans.

But the storybook ending never happened: She got only a handful of assignments since then and is resigning in frustration.

"When I got the news from the school board that I would be retained, I was thrilled," she said. "I thought, `They consider me a person of worth, and that I could still be a valuable asset.'

"But it didn't happen," she said.

Before her transition from male to female in 2005, McBeth said she averaged between 15 to 18 assignments a year as a substitute teacher for elementary students in the Eagleswood school district, and an additional 16 to 20 a year in the Pinelands Regional School District, teaching high school students.

Afterward, she said, she only got two assignments per year at both districts.

"All they did was put me in a closet again," she said. "They boxed me in and kept me there."

McBeth, 75, sent a letter Wednesday to the Eagleswood Board of Education saying she would not return as a substitute this fall, and plans to give similar notice soon to the Pinelands district.

Jennifer Boylan, an English professor at Colby College in Maine and author of the best-selling autobiographical novel, "She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders," said transgender people continue to suffer discrimination.

"It seems like a good teacher is being judged for something other than her talent, and we should all be able to agree that's not fair," said Boylan, who transitioned in 2000. "My heart goes out to Lily and all people who have to fight prejudice as a result of who they are."

Deborah Snyder, the Eagleswood schools superintendent, said the district wanted McBeth to return this fall. She denied bias was involved, adding the district has hired a permanent substitute to report to work each day and fill in as needed.

For other classroom vacancies, the district turns to its list of certified teachers. Only after that is exhausted does it call subs from the local hiring list that included McBeth.

"We wanted to see her back on our sub list," Snyder said. "If she makes the decision not to return to our district, we wish her all the best in the future."

Detlef Kern, the Pinelands superintendent, declined to comment.

McBeth says she misses interacting with students in the classroom.

"I tried to be an example of something you might want to be when you grow up: a kind, caring person," she said.

While some parents objected at public meetings to McBeth continuing to teach after becoming a woman, many students were supportive.

"I can see where some people might have concerns, but people just need to get over it," one Pinelands high school student said in 2006.

Jillian Todd Weiss, an assistant professor of law and society at Ramapo College in New Jersey transitioned in 1998, about five years before she began teaching. She says she's not surprised at how things worked out for McBeth.

"There's a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk," said Weiss, who holds seminars for businesses on how to deal with transgender employees in the workplace. "This often does happen in employment situations where there's an outward display of tolerance and acceptance."

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said McBeth's experience is a common one for transgender employees. A survey her group helped to conduct this year of 6,500 transgender Americans found 91 percent had faced bias at work because of their transgender status.

These included supervisors illegally disseminating personal information to co-workers or deliberately using the wrong pronoun when addressing them; being passed over for promotion or barred from dealing with clients. Seven percent reported being physically assualted at work, and 6 percent said they were sexually assaulted.

McBeth, a retired marketing executive with three children, plans to stay busy with hobbies, which include work to help re-establish clam colonies in Barnegat Bay. She also acts in local theater productions and sings in a church choir.

"I could sue them over the violation of my medical privacy rights, but what would that accomplish?" she said. "I'm not in this for the money, and I have to be able to sleep peacefully at night. I'm just going to enjoy the rest of my life."