Sunnie Kahle, an 8-year-old girl from Timberlake, Va., has dis-enrolled from a local Christian school after her guardian grandparents were sent an ultimatum from the institution stating their grand-daughter’s “tomboy” ways needed to change and reflect her God-ordained gender or she would be refused enrollment the following year. The school argued that Sunnie’s looks and behavior are confusing to other classmates, because they do not follow the school’s “biblical standards” for appearance.
Administrators contend in their letter that they have the authority to refuse enrollment for “condoning sexual immorality, or practicing a homosexual lifestyle or alternate gender identity.” Biblical references are quoted throughout the letter to affirm these bylaws. Furthermore, the letter urges the family and Sunnie to fully comprehend that God has made her a female, therefore her style of dress and actions need to comply with God’s prescribed identity. Otherwise, the school suggested the second-grader find a different school.
“She’s a pure, 100 percent tomboy,” said Sunnie’s great-grandfather. She likes to wear her hair short, dress in boy’s clothes, collect hunting knives, and play with her BB gun. The grandparents, Carroll and Doris Thompson, were shocked their grand-daughter was the recipient of an ultimatum.
Refusing to comply to the demands of Timberlake Christian School administrators, the Sunnie’s grandparents enrolled her in public school, but they were not quiet about it. Since their lawyer informed them they could not sue the school because it was a private institution, they decided to go public with their unrest. There have been other, recent disputes over gender expression at school, like the case of the 9-year-old North Carolina boy who was asked to stop carrying a My Little Pony backpack to school, but Sunnie’s case was not involved in the public domain and was not subjected to the same anti-discrimination laws.
After a televised news report about Sunnie attracted the attention of social media outlets, TCS relied on its parent school, Liberty University, a Christian school founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, to speak for them publicly. A leading member of Liberty Counsel says there is more to the circumstances than the Thompsons are publicizing. “This is not at all about how she is dressing or she is going through a phase,” he said in a telephone interview. However, due to confidentiality laws he was unable to be more specific. An administrator from TCS also refused to discuss what instigated the principal’s letter, but it was noted that the school’s position was not a result of Sunnie’s grades or “general cooperation with school rules.”
School officials did express disapproval over the Thompson’s decision to go public and not resolve the issue with the school privately. The school also stated that they never considered or called the girl “immoral,” they did not evict her, and they were willing to “work with her.” They called her “a precious, little girl.”
According to Mrs. Thompson, she is unaware of anything pressing other than Sunnie’s boyish ways that prompted the school’s disapproval. Sunnie is well-behaved, receives good grades, and misses her friends. At times, new classmates would inquire whether she was a boy or a girl, but Sunnie would tell them and that was all there was to it. Sunnie’s grandmother is certain Sunnie knows she is a girl, and as far as she knows has never mentioned wishing to be a boy.
Sunnie’s tomboy ways started early on when she started going to TCS. While in prekindergarten, she cut her hair to donate it to a charity that provides wigs for cancer patients. It was at this time that she became interested in wearing boy’s clothes, her grand-mother said.
There was an incident earlier in the year when Sunnie was mistaken for a boy while in the girls’ bathroom, and two boys tried to drag her into the boys’ bathroom, but the encounter was reported to a teacher, and everyone involved got in trouble for being rowdy.
Sunnie is partial to Timberlake and her friends there, and has said that she will grow her hair out if it means she can go back, but her grandfather says it is out of the question. “I don’t see nothing Christian about it,” Mr. Thompson sums up, regarding the school’s initially proposed refusal to re-enroll Sunnie for being a tomboy. Her grandparents’ hope is that Sunnie finds her place and is warmly accepted at her new school.
By Stacy Feder
The Seattle Times