Mom of transgender athlete says family has received outpouring of support, but lost their privacy

The family of the transgender student at the center of a controversy involving Monarch High’s girls volleyball team has received both of an “outpouring of support” and a loss of privacy, her mom said Monday.

Jessica Norton, an information management specialist at the school, publicly identified herself as the mother of the girl for the first time Monday, through a statement from the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights group that has provided legal representation to the family.

“The outpouring of love and support from our community this past week has been inspiring, selfless and brave,” Norton said in a statement. “Watching our community’s resistance and display of love has been so joyous for our family — the light leading us through this darkness. I want everyone to know that we see you, and we are so grateful for you.”

She added, “A lot of things were taken from my family this week — our privacy, sense of safety, and right to self-determination.”

Norton also is one of several school officials who were reassigned from Monarch High, pending the outcome of an investigation. The district’s Special Investigative Unit is reviewing whether school officials allowed Norton’s daughter to violate a 2021 state law that bans students who are born male from playing on girls’ teams.

District spokesman John Sullivan said he expects the investigation to be complete in about 2½ months, or by late February, ensuring the employees receive due process.

The reassignments of four employees prompted two days of student walkouts last week. Many of the students voiced support for Norton’s daughter, chanting messages such as, “Let her serve.”

A fifth school official, head volleyball coach Alex Burgess, isn’t a district employee, but won’t be allowed to coach in the district until the investigation concludes. He told the South Florida Sun Sentinel he didn’t know the athlete was transgender.

The mom said in her statement that her child was outed, a term that can refer to people’s LGBTQ status being revealed against their will. While the student was not named publicly by the district or in news articles, her identity has become well known at the school since the district announced the investigation last week, according to people at the school.

“There is a long history in this country of outing people against their will — forced outing, particularly of a child, is a direct attempt to endanger the person being outed,” Norton said. “We kindly ask everyone to respect our family’s privacy, and to give our family the space we need to speak to our experience on our own terms and timeline.”

The family has been fighting a legal battle for more than two years. The family sued the state in hopes of overturning the 2021 law, known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” The lawsuit doesn’t name the student or her school, and identifies her parents by their first names. A judge ruled in favor of the state last month but has allowed the student to file an amended complaint.

It’s not clear who else at Monarch knew the athlete is transgender. Burgess said he didn’t know until the investigation started last week.

“I keep it to volleyball. I don’t really dig into their personal lives,” Burgess said.

Athletes are required to fill out forms stating they are eligible to play, including verifying that athletes on the girls’ team were born female. The state allowed the gender on the birth certificate to change from male to female, according to the family’s lawsuit. The state law says the gender listed “at or near” the time of birth are allowed to be used as proof.

Burgess said he hadn’t seen the student’s records, which are handled through the Florida High School Athletic Association. He said he only received a list of students who were eligible, and the student was on the list.

“I got that everything was OK,” he said. “It goes on a screen and all I see on the screen is clear.”

The athletic director, Dione Hester, is one of the four employees reassigned during the investigation, along with Norton, Principal James Cecil and Assistant Principal Kenneth May.

Burgess, who was a volleyball player and 2020 graduate of Monarch, had coached the student for two seasons.

“She made the team. I felt she was a good contributor. I saw how she was with the girls. She brought an energy and a different vibe,” Burgess said.

Those who support the state law say athletes born male have an unfair competitive advantages. Supporters of transgender athletes say those advantages are often mitigated through hormone treatments.

Burgess, who started coaching at Monarch last year, also has coached the boys’ team. He said he’d like to return to coaching as soon as possible. Conditioning for the boys’ team is scheduled to start in January, and the season starts in February, he said.