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Local resident speaks openly about being discriminated against

By By Chris Cole
Published On: Apr 05 2013 11:23:44 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 05 2013 11:31:25 PM CDT

Pocatello woman works for School District 25 and has had several complaints from parents about her being transgendered.

Pocatello, Idaho -

Thursday was the “what” when it comes to the Non-Discrimination Ordinance in Pocatello.

Friday, reporter Chris Cole took a closer look into the “why” this discussion is happening in the first place. He sat down with one woman who has experienced discrimination and is now speaking out.

The story begins in October 2012, when Grae Brennan returned to Pocatello from Salt Lake City. She had been there since 2009, undergoing hormone therapy, counseling sessions and building strength to return to her family in Pocatello.

"I submitted my resume,” said Brennan, “and fulfilled all the requirements that they would expect of anybody who is substitute-teaching."

On Feb. 11, our station received an email saying there was a “cross-dressing male substitute teacher” making kids uncomfortable at schools in the district.

At the time, pursuing a story was not possible, as Brennan expressed no desire to be interviewed on the subject.

However, School District 25 added into their policy, and is standing behind its employee with its own version of a non-discrimination ordinance.

"Discrimination in the form of prejudice."

That's what Grae Brennan said she experienced at the hands of parents who complained of her presence in the classroom.

"But the children themselves are really quite accepting,” Brennan said. “I was terrified at first, I really didn't know if I could do it."

But Brennan spent six years getting two degrees, one in political science and the other in secondary education.

She says that suggestions of her simply finding another job are not acceptable, because she does not discuss being transgender with the students.

"I don't address that in the classroom. That's not the place, or the time,” Brennan stated. “I just present myself in a professional manner, I teach according to what the teacher has left for me to provide to the classroom."

Brennan also said that she has worked closely with the school district as to what to do if the situation arises where a student asks about her transition.

She said she will not address the issue at all in a classroom or school setting, and will direct questions to the principal or the student's parents.

She added that were she to receive a question in the grocery store or other public venue, she would be more than happy to have a discussion with someone, depending on the intent.

The ordinance being discussed in the City Council right now addresses this very issue. Without it, Brennan could be fired or not even hired in the first place. Additionally, she could be kicked out of her residence because she is transgender.

"It's important that everybody's treated fairly and treated right,” said Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad in an interview Thursday afternoon. “At the end of the day I would hope that we can come up with an ordinance where everyone can be treated equally."

During the forum Thursday night, the majority of people supported the ordinance. Several people even came out publicly for the first time.

Yet, those opposed worried their rights might be given to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

"If we have rights today, I don't want those rights taken away tomorrow because we passed these ordinances," Mayor Blad stated.

The ordinance also brought into question some people's religious beliefs. Some asked whether the city would force them to violate their religious beliefs by forcing them to hire someone who is LGBT.

Discussion back and forth brought about the separation of church and state. Some people simply said that they should hire the best person for that job, or rent to the best-suited tenant, and that sexuality should have nothing to do with it.

Some of Brennan's most difficult moments were in Salt Lake City, coming to terms with realizing she was happiest living as a woman.

"[I was] facing these issues, these secrets I was keeping within myself,” Brennan said, “and I finally realized I just could not continue living with these secrets, because it was devastating."

She said she felt it was best to move there because it had more to offer her than Pocatello. She also said making that transition in Pocatello was something she did not look forward to.

"I was terrified to do that in this community," Brennan recalled.

Now that she is back in Pocatello, with a new strength and a new life, she's not about to back down from her right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"I know I couldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't gone through that, and to be honest I don't know if I would be here today if I hadn't done that for myself."

She isn't looking for pity, or trying to tell a sob story, however. Rather, she hopes speaking out publicly will give someone else a voice, or at least let them know they are not alone.

"What a lot of the general public doesn't understand is that in order for you to proceed in your transition, there are certain requirements you have to fulfill," Brennan explained.

These requirements include having to live as a person of the opposite sex for at least a year. Brennan said she has been living this way for several years. She said that made the term “cross-dresser” not apply to her.

"In just a couple weeks it will be what I almost consider my birthday," she said.

She also said that's another difficulty, as she is fully aware of stares, whispers and giggles both from students and other members of the education field.

The ordinance will be brought up again in two weeks, on April 18. Brennan says she hopes the revisions will satisfy everybody, and Pocatello can become one of just a handful of Idaho cities to promote acceptance and equality.

After all, she is raising her own daughter in this community. 

If you have any additional stories like Grae Brennan's, please email Chris Cole at chris.cole@localnews8.com to discuss possible future stories.

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