Meet Rosemary Ketchum, a second-year student at West Virginia Northern Community College who now finds herself caught in the middle of a national debate although all she really wants is to be treated as the person she’s become.
She is studying psychology and also serves as the president of SCARSI, the social issues club that focuses on local and national issues facing vulnerable populations. Ketchum does plan to continue her education after earning an associate’s degree, and she is considering both West Liberty University and Wheeling Jesuit.
Oh yeah, and Ketchum also is a transgender female, and she is not embarrassed to discuss the reasons involved with her decision.
“It’s been simple for me. Being in the public has never been difficult for me. I’ve not been an introvert, so for me to be in the public has never been an issue,” Ketchum said. “However, not everyone knows that I am a trans person, so, in a sense, it doesn’t become an issue because they don’t see a trans person. But I have always been very forthcoming with saying, ‘This is just the way it is.’
“It’s true, people have been jarred by it, but they have also been wonderfully curious about it, too. I really, really love the curiosity, and I think, for the LGBT community, that curiosity has been a great thing because it’s not been punishing in nature,” she said. “I’ve never been attacked, not even verbally, so when people ask me questions – no matter how uncomfortable they get – I answer then as factually as I can because through knowledge comes understanding.
“Fear is the reason why people are discriminatory. It’s because they are afraid of what they do not know.”
She was named Ian at birth, and Ketchum was raised in Beaver, Pa., with her older sister and two younger brothers. While her sibling attended public school, she was homeschooled by her mother and father.
“I think that my parents were sensitive, and they recognized certain feminine qualities that I have had since a very young age although they had never heard the term, ‘transgender.’ They had no idea what that meant,” Ketchum explained. “At that time they had only heard of homosexual or gay, but what they did know was that I would have faced discrimination if they had sent me to school, so they homeschooled me themselves.
“It would have been inevitable too, and I know that. There’s no way of knowing today how bad it would have been, but undoubtedly it would have been there, and they wanted to save me from that,” she said. “My parents were amazingly aware of that, and I feel it benefited me in more than one way.”
It was at the age of 12 when Ketchum made the decision to begin using a different name because she knew that Ian did not match the person she was.
“When I adopted the name ‘Rosemary,’ I believe that was probably one of the most difficult decisions my parents had to make,” Ketchum said. “And I was afraid I would pick something, and in 10 years I would regret it, but I think I was a pragmatic 12-year-old, so that’s why I chose ‘Rosemary.’
“And with it I could be ‘Rose’ or ‘Mary.’ I guess I was protecting the decision by thinking about it that way,” she continued. “But I remember thinking about it that way, and there’s not been any regret since.”
Would you like to know why there is no regret?
“The day when I consider being a man will never arrive in my life because I’ve never felt like a man during my lifetime,” Ketchum said. “It’d be difficult for me to go back to something I’ve never been. And honestly, I don’t think about it unless I’m asked about it. Other than that, I just live life.”
Issues and Information
In the precise moment in the summer of 1976, when a man named Bruce Jenner became a gold-medal-winning decathlete in Montreal, fame followed.
Decades later, Jenner would once again make international news, but not because of athletic accomplishments. Instead, it was because Bruce decided to transition into “Caitlyn Jenner.” Jenner revealed herself as a trans woman in April 2015 during a 20/20 interview with journalist Diane Sawyer.
“That situation has helped increase the understanding because there are so many communities that do not have a champion,” Ketchum said. “People do gain a lot more of an understanding when a community has someone who is willing to step forward and be that champion. I know so many people who still remember when Bruce Jenner was on that Wheaties box, and now they have sat there and watched Bruce become Caitlyn and take on that issue for all of us. But because so many people knew Bruce and believed he was a part of their own history, they have been able to learn more and more about it.
“I think every community does need that person so other people can stop looking at the caricatures, but I would accept that position here in Wheeling. I cannot say that I have experienced everything that has been experienced by all trans people, but since my life has been so wonderful, that positivity would allow for a healthy version of the trans experience.
“I think if someone else sees a happy, motivated, and educating trans person, then others can finally understand that people in my position do not have to be undercover and hidden away behind the curtain.”
Several state legislatures, including West Virginia’s, introduced proposed laws that would limit LGBT rights. While the proposal failed to pass in most states, the North Carolina General Assembly did pass House Bill 2, legislation that quickly was tabbed, “the bathroom bill” because it requires anyone using restrooms in public schools and agencies to use facilities designated for the gender listed on an individual’s birth certificate instead of using the bathroom consistent with the sex with which an individual identifies. Soon after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law, officials from the U.S. Justice Department notified McCrory that the bill likely violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The state of North Carolina and the federal government since have sued each other over House Bill 2.
Then, on May 13, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division issued a joint letter that provided guidance concerning federal guidelines for transgender students and restroom use. The letter also provided definitions concerning gender identity, and it asserted that transgender students could not be denied restroom access and that no students should ever be forced to provide documents to determine gender identity.
Since the letter was distributed to all public schools in the country, officials from eight states, including West Virginia, have signed on to a brief requesting the federal appeals court to re-hear a case involving a transgender student from Virginia who wished to use the boys’ bathroom. The court sided with the student.
“It’s the kind of debate that is definitely a part of the whole process, and I did anticipate it when LGBT issues became mainstream,” Ketchum said. “And when I first heard about the North Carolina law, my first thought was, ‘Ah, look how hard they are trying.’ But for myself, there’s been no amount of discrimination that I have faced.
“In North Carolina, the issue was that heterosexual men were going to create a farce of their gender and then step into a bathroom,” she continued. “But there have been no reported issues linking a man dressed as a woman going into a bathroom to violate the rights of another woman. That just doesn’t happen.”
Ask her, and she’ll talk about the issue, and Ketchum insists on making a point she believes is vital to understanding the world’s transgender population.
“I enjoy explaining one thing to people and that is that, although the LGBT community is lumped together, the ‘T’ part is different than the rest,” she explained. “The ‘L,’ the ‘G,’ and the ‘B,’ are about sexual orientation, your sexual attraction, but the ‘T,’ the transgender part of that acronym, has nothing to do with sexuality.
“A trans person can be bi-sexual, heterosexual, or homosexual. The ‘T’ is simply based on gender, but many people believe that a trans person must be a homosexual, but that’s just not true,” she said. “It’s misinformation, and it’s often overlooked. Personally, I’ve never been attracted to females, but that’s just me. That’s not all trans people.
“Another myth out there about transgender people is that they had to be abused as children, and that’s simply not true either. My parents never abused me. I have great parents, and I love them very much. They have always been very supportive and very open.”
The ‘Friendly City’?
The city of Wheeling was included in January in a ranking of West Virginia’s five largest cities and while the municipality scored points for having a human rights commission with enforcement powers and an anti-bullying policy in Ohio County Schools, the “Friendly City” collected only 14 of a possible of 100 points when considering protections for the LGBT community.
The 2015 Municipal Equality Index listing was compiled and released by the national Human Rights Campaign, and it included Charleston (73), Huntington (65), Morgantown (42), and Parkersburg (18). Wheeling was one of 408 cities rated based on equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population and the average score was 56.
Ten municipal councils in West Virginia have adopted LGBT standards, and the nine members of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission have been working with City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth for several months in an attempt to develop a resolution and ordinance to forward to City Council to accomplish the same. A primary difference pertaining to the city of Wheeling is the fact that its Human Right Commission is a body that adjudicates complaints concerning fair housing, employment, and places of public accommodation. All other Mountain State cities depend on the state’s HRC.
“My experience with the people in this community has been absolutely fantastic whether it’s been with students at college or throughout this community,” Ketchum reported. “It’s never been about the choice, your hair color, or what you have between your legs. People here seem very interested in ways to make it better.
“I know the government in Wheeling is working on LGBT standards, and I realize what they can do is limited because the state hasn’t done anything, and neither has the federal government. But it is extremely important,” she continued. “I know when people see these things happening in New York and in Los Angeles, they immediately think, ‘Well, we don’t have that sort of raucous happening here.’ I think those people need to realize that trans people are a part of every community.”
Ketchum’s experience as a student at WVNCC also has been a pleasant one.
“We only have a community of about 1,200 students on our Wheeling campus, and yet they are truly the most accepting, wonderful people whether they know I am trans or not,” she said. “Now, there are those people out there who continue to judge and discriminate, but that number is lower now than it’s ever been before.”
She’s not had the same surgeries Jenner and others have had performed, but Ketchum does plan to in the years to come. Even if she wanted to now Ketchum could not within the Wheeling community.
“I do plan to do that in the future, but right now I am a poor college student,” Ketchum said. “Hopefully, at that time, this area has that kind of medical care, but that’s not the case at this time. They might understand the terminology, but they don’t quite understand the avenues.
“It’s no fault of their own. They have to deal with the most pertinent issues, and only one in every 30,000 people is transgender,” she said. “So that means it’s not a prevalent issue. There’s a lot of exposure to it now in the news, but I have only met one other transgender person in my entire life, and I know people who have never met a transgender person.
“That’s why so many people have no idea what it is and why it takes place. A lot of people are just listening to the news to figure it out, and that, of course, leads to a lot of misinformed people.”
(Photos provided by Ms. Ketchum)
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