HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - While many people are concerned for the safety of their children in Horry County Schools' bathrooms, a parent of a transgender child came forward to explain why she feels they're pushing for her own son's well-being to be at risk.
"That board meeting, I can't imagine they were thinking about my child in that manner," she said. "It hurts. It really does hurt."
The woman wished to remain anonymous to protect her son's identity. He is a fifth grader in Horry County Schools.
From the moment he could speak his mind, she said she knew he did not want to be her daughter. He wanted to be her son.
"For a very long time, he was a handsome prince, not a pretty princess," she said.
She thought it was a phase.
"They're tom boys. They'll grow out of it," she said. "Inevitably, at 5, he asked if he could be a boy."
She tried for years to get him to conform to his biological sex, dressing him in feminine clothes and buying girly toys.
"Christmas for 10 years was miserable because toys would be left under the tree for weeks," the mother said.
She eventually let him cut his hair short while he continued to live as a girl.
"That was the first step of, 'I'm so happy. I'm starting to be free,'" she said.
However, the short haircut led to bullying at school.
"The bullies got so bad that it physically made him sick," she said.
The mother eventually chose happiness for her son by allowing him to transition to a boy, which included changing his first name and starting at a new school.
"He felt complete and has been happier than any year prior," she said. "We've made the honor roll. We have friends."
Her son uses a separate gender-neutral bathroom at school, but other students understood that particular restroom as one students were not supposed to use.
"It would cause him anxiety and he wouldn't use the bathroom," she said. "He'd wait all day and he'd come home and use the bathroom."
She said that situation has been fixed, but now, she's worried for what's to come for the rest of her son's academic career in Horry County Schools.
"Their theory is to protect children and I just need them to understand that transgender children exist and we need to be protected too," she said.
Julinna Oxley, affiliate faculty member of women's and gender studies and associate professor of philosophy at Coastal Carolina University, said she agrees the fear of people who might harm others shouldn't negatively affect the rights of transgender people.
"Pedophiles are a completely different animal and we have to watch out for them," Oxley said. "We have to be very careful of them, but that is not the same as preventing someone who needs to use the restroom, who looks like they are a woman, to be using the woman's restroom."
She said laws are already on the books protecting people from being harmed in bathrooms. Plus, she said other people would notice if someone is pretending to be a gender different from what they live as on a daily basis in order to take advantage of protections for transgender people.
Oxley said people don't wake up one day deciding to be a different gender. She added that transgender people know their biological sex does not match what they feel they are on the inside and what they want society to recognize them as from the time they're young.
When that mismatched feeling results in anxiety, depression and severe self-loathing, Oxley said it's called gender dysphoria.
She said there is treatment for gender dysphoria, which is to allow people suffering from it to live as the gender they want to be, so they do not experience those negative emotions tied to feeling like they're trapped in their biological bodies.
"It's not a mental illness. It's very treatable," she said. "All you have to do is let them be themselves. All you have to do is let them choose."
Oxley said transgender people usually aim to pass as the gender they identify with so people won't even know their sex at birth was different.
She added the suicide rate among transgender people is more than 40 percent compared to 4 percent of the general U.S. population. She said the murder rate is also growing.
Oxley said putting transgender people in the bathrooms of their biological sex can draw attention to the fact that they're transgender and put them at an even greater risk of danger.
"They're dressing as a woman. They're acting as a woman. They are being a woman in all the ways that we take to be socially acceptable," she said. "To require that person to go into the men's bathroom would be disastrous."
Many people who are against allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms they identify with said the majority of people would be at risk in order to accommodate a minority.
Oxley said transgender people account for .5 percent of the general population. For comparison, she said people who use wheelchairs account for 1.5 percent.
She said schools accommodate those who need wheelchairs, so they should accommodate everyone with all kinds of needs equally.
Oxley felt some flexibility would make it easy enough to accommodate everyone's bathroom needs. However, she thinks the root of the resistance is society's fundamental notions of what it means to be a man or be a woman are being challenged.
"When we try to start mixing that up, it's threatening. It threatens the social order," she said. "So this is what I think is really going on is there are these larger questions."
Oxley said she thinks society needs to be more compassionate toward the transgender community.