Though he faced controversy even before he set foot at American Legion’s Boys State this summer, Emmet Cummings of Center Point said he had a positive experience at the camp, held June 10 to 15 at Camp Dodge in Johnston.
Boys State board members initially denied Cummings’ application to attend because he is transgender. They later changed their minds though they didn’t change their policy.
They called the decision to allow Cummings to attend an “exception” to a policy to accept “male applicants only, based on how they were identified on a birth certificate or government-issued ID,” board secretary John Derner told The Gazette in April.
One other transgender student also attended the camp this summer, Derner said Thursday. However, he said the board still hasn’t decided how to handle the policy in future years.
Boys State housed Cummings, an incoming senior at Center-Point Urbana High School, and the other student in individual rooms rather than the group barracks with the rest of the boys.
Previously, they had asked the family to tour the barracks, and Cummings told them he didn’t mind sharing living quarters with the rest of the students.
That was when the Legion board initially told him he couldn’t attend, citing concerns about how the parents of other boys would react.
Derner said he had no comment on why they housed both the transgender students in their own rooms.
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“I would have been fine sleeping in normal barracks, but if they want to put me in my own room, I guess I’ll take it,” Cummings said. “ There’s really not much I could have done.”
He said how transgender students are housed in the future might depend on the individual.
“A lot would depend on whether they’re comfortable with it or not,” Cummings said. “There are people like me, who are incredibly comfortable with it. Or there are people who are earlier in their transition who might have discomfort.”
Boys State dives deep into American civics and government, something that greatly interested Cummings, who was nominated to attend Boys State by his local American Legion post.
He said despite the leadership’s stated concerns, fellow campers were supportive. Campers are divided into “cities,” and he said his city councilors only brought up the topic on the first day to ask how he wanted them to talk about it with the other boys.
“I found out on the last day my city had Googled my name and knew I was trans, and they didn’t care,” he said. “It really wasn’t a big deal. I talked about it with a couple of the guys, but it really wasn’t a big deal. Things went really well actually.”
Cummings’ father, Phil Cummings, said he hopes the positive experience Emmet had this year leads to a permanent policy change.
“We didn’t start this fight to gain attention. We started this fight to do what was right,” he said. “The telling thing is going to be next year. If the Legion Boys State program gets another trans kid applying for it and approved by the local unit, how are they going to treat that?
“Are they going to do a policy change, are they going to take things on a case-by-case basis? What are they going to do? We are certainly willing to help any other young man who wants to go and tell them about our experience.”
The younger Cummings echoed his father’s sentiment.
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“If the board decides to reverse on their reception, I want to tell any other trans kids who are wanting to get in, keep fighting for it,” he said. “Change will come eventually, and you might as well try to achieve it quicker than they would like.”
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