Until recently, Maddie Kleeman Rose was a happy, popular 12-year-old attending elementary school in Achille, Oklahoma.
Even as a young transgender girl, Maddie’s life was full of friends, a loving family, and supportive teachers. Then again, no one outside of her family knew she was trans. Why would they need to?
As early as age two, Maddie was making her preferences clear. “She always wanted pink blankets, and ruffles for her room,” said Maddie’s mother, Brandy Kay Rose. “I knew it wasn’t typical, but being transgender never occurred to me. I didn’t even know what transgender was at that time. I thought she would probably grow up to be a very, very gay boy.”
By the age of six, Maddie was insisting she was a girl to anyone who would listen. The family found a solution. Living in rural Sherman, Texas, at the time, they allowed her to present as a girl at home, but continue presenting as a boy at school. It worked—for a while.
“We sought out a therapist to help us understand what was happening,” Maddie’s mom recalls. “The therapist spent time with us, and eventually suggested that Maddie was transgender. It was a learning experience, but it made sense. The therapist suggested that we let Maddie be who she says she is and accept her, so we did. From that moment on, we started her transition at school, too.”
On her first day of fourth grade in Sherman, Maddie attended as a girl, and that’s when the trouble started. Other students remembered her as “Matthew,” and a stream of unrelenting bullying began.
“The hostility got so bad that even Maddie’s siblings were involved, so eventually we decided to move to Achille and give Maddie a fresh start,” Rose recalls. “We had family there, most of whom had been supportive of Maddie’s transition. When she started in her new school in Achille, she was ‘Maddie’ and no one else.”
Maddie was attending school without incident in her new town—until the day she was called from class to the principal’s office.
“The administrators said they were going through Maddie’s files ‘to gather test scores from Texas,’” Rose said. “They found records that still documented her name as ‘Matthew,’ so they called her to the office and asked her about it. Maddie told them, but it horrified her. She was in tears and called me right away. That’s when the rumors took off.”
Achille school administrators have said that Maddie “outed herself to other students,” but Rose isn’t so sure.
“Maddie says that she did not tell anyone outside of the people in the office, and that makes sense to me,” Rose said. “I just can’t imagine us moving to Oklahoma for a fresh start for Maddie, and then she chooses to ignore the opportunity.”
The hostility got worse in August. After Maddie entered seventh grade, an unofficial Facebook page dedicated to parents of Achille students appeared online. In a short time, the page was dripping with posts threatening the child. One man egged readers on, stating that it was “open hunting season on ‘them’ in Oklahoma,” and that there was “no bag limit.” Others baited students to teach “it” a lesson. The worst of the posts suggested physical violence involving genital mutilation. The controversy prompted the school district o cancel classes for two days.
When Maddie got wind of the threats, things changed dramatically. She was terrified and started sleeping in her parents’ room.
“There was a window in Maddie’s bedroom, and she was afraid someone would crawl through it and get her in the middle of the night,” Rose said. “She was absolutely petrified. We knew we had to move again, but we could not afford it. We just did not know what to do. We needed to save our daughter, but how?”
Maddie’s story caught the attention of the national media, including Time magazine, ABC News, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
A woman in Oklahoma City saw the coverage and called Rose to ask her permission to launch a GoFundMe campaign to help the family move out of the state. Rose agreed, and the goal was set at $15,000. At the time of this writing, donations stood at $54,000 with nationwide help still coming in.
“It was such an amazing blessing,” Rose said of the campaign. “We have family in Houston, but it has never been a financial possibility to move there until now. Houston has so many more resources for Maddie, and it is so welcoming. It will be life-changing for all of us.”
The Rose family found a house in Spring, and their goal is to move in by early October. What Maddie doesn’t know yet is that she has already amassed many friends and fans in Space City.
A representative from the Montrose Center’s HATCH Youth program, which provides a safe space for LGBTQ youth, said the group is looking forward to getting to know Maddie and introducing her to other members.
“I am so happy that Houston has HATCH,” Rose said. “I always worry that Maddie feels alone, and thanks to HATCH, she will know she’s not.”
The support of so many caring people from around the country has helped make Maddie’s terror subside as the family prepares for the move. “She still doesn’t sleep in her own room—she sleeps in the living room now—but all the kindness we have received has made a difference in Maddie’s level of fear,” Rose said. “Now she knows she is supported, and that has really made a difference.”
As the move to Houston approached, Maddie made a decision regarding her attendance at yet another school: she decided to enter her new situation as a fully out trans girl. No secrets this time.
Rose and her daughter also decided to meet with Spring Independent School District administrators and counselors in advance of their arrival. They were delighted with the warm reception they received—a stark contrast from the situation in Oklahoma.
Sylvia Wood, a spokeswoman for Spring ISD, said the district prohibits discrimination based on gender.
“This includes transgender, or students who do not conform to stereotypical notions of gender identity,” Wood said.
Denise Zimmermann, Spring ISD’s director of Mental Health and Related Services, added that the district also has “a very effective anti-bullying policy.”
“We look at students as individuals, as the people they are, and often handle them on a case-by-case basis,” Zimmermann said. “We are very respectful, and work hard to provide an environment to nurture each student, no matter what.”
This article appears in the October 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.