Eight-year-old Tomboy, Sunnie Kahl is not allowed at a Christian in school in Virginia. The school deems her appearance as inappropriate and not in line with good Christian values.
Sunnie Kahl, who is raised by her great-grandparents, does not fit the conventional idea of what a little girl should look like. Sunnie’s tomboy appearance was the catalyst that caused her school to send home a note warning she would not be able to re-enroll unless she changed her appearance. This case comes in the wake of the 9-year-old little boy from North Carolina Grayson Bruce who was told by his school administrators that he could not carry his light blue my little pony book bag because it would incite bullying. In both cases the children are adolescents, under ten-years-old looking to the adults for guidance and answers but instead are shunned and asked to change. In this case the message is clear, tomboy’s are not allowed.
Sunnie is not a “girlie girl”, she does not wear frilly dresses and play with dolls, instead she wears boys clothing, collects hunting knives and likes to shoot her BB gun, so clearly she must be punished. The administrators at Timberlake Christian School, in which she attended, sent a note home with an ultimatum stating she must change her appearance and behavior to a more feminine nature or cannot come back. Sunnie’s great-grandparents, the Thompsons opted to change schools but sought legal advice in the interim. Unfortunately because Timberlake is a private school the lawyer advised there was no legal recourse and so the Thompson’s took to the media to be heard.
The Thompson’s are stunned by the administrator’s allegations asserting Sunnie’s appearance is sexually immoral, and by dressing the way that she does she is not accepting her God-given gender. The Thompson’s do not see anything Christian about the school’s decision and defend their great-granddaughter by saying she is a pure and innocent 8-year-old girl regardless of her tomboy persona. However Timberlake is a private institution and thus not held to the same anti-discrimination laws as public schools, translation, they can deny schooling to a tomboy, or any other child who does not conform to their Christian guidelines.
Sunnie first asked to cut her hair when she was in kindergarten because she wanted to donate her hair to an organization that supports children with cancer, certainly TCS must see this as a good Christian act of kindness. It was at this time Sunnie wanted to start dressing like a boy, but has never expressed her desire to be a boy according to her grandmother. In an effort to get back into the school that she loves, Sunnie offered to grow her hair out if that would appease school administrators, however the grandfather will not allow it and TCS will not allow tomboy’s so Sunnie must go to a new school.
In an effort to defend its institution in the wave of the media attention this case has garnered, TCS has hired a firm to represent them. The school has released a statement stating there is more to the story than Sunnie’s appearance however they are not at liberty to discuss it. This seems to be an effort at back-pedaling since a letter written by TCS’s principal Becky Bowman, stating unless Sunnie changes her appearance TCS is not the best place for her, if there were additional reasons for Sunnies’ dismissal it was not outlined in the letter.
Prior to this dismissal Sunnie had a few incidents in school; new students questioned if she was a boy or girl, she was accused of using the wrong bathroom and some boys tried to force her in the boys bathroom. In retrospect perhaps this is the reason TCS will not allow tomboy’s, clearly it causes too much confusion. How can they handle the other kids asking questions or potential bullying because of differences? So instead of educating the children about loving everyone and accepting differences the obvious solution is to punish and ostracize the different child, problem solved. With its inability to handle diversity TCS must be a school where every child looks the same and act the same, who else other than tomboy’s are not allowed?
The school expresses disappointment of the Thompsons going public with this case and shared they wish they could have worked with them privately to resolve the issue. According to their letter by resolve they must mean force Sunnie to change her tomboy appearance, act more girlie and dress more feminine and then all would resume to ‘normal’.
Opinion By Debra Pittman
The Washington Post
The Boston Globe