Nine-year-old Joe Maldonado made international headlines earlier this year when he became the nation’s first openly transgender Cub Scout after his case prompted the Boy Scouts of America to change its policy to allow transgender students.
His mother, Kristie Maldonado, fought for her third grader’s right to join the organization — and tells PEOPLE she will continue to fight for his rights after news that President Donald Trump and top officials in the Justice Department and Education Department have rescinded protections for transgender students that allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.
Maldonado, 43, says she doesn’t see why Trump should care about which bathroom a transgender person uses, and believes that if someone close to him was transgender he would not have rescinded protections for trans students.
“I really believe that if he had a child who was transgender or knew someone close he would not make that change. Transgender people don’t look to cause trouble. Actually the opposite — they want to keep a low profile. They are just trying to be who they are inside and go about everyday as normal,” she says.
Although the Trump administration isn’t supporting transgender students’ rights, individual schools can still allow trans students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity, according to The New York Times, and Maldonado says Joe’s New Jersey elementary school is supportive of his gender identity. Furthermore, she says she would not be afraid to travel with him to less tolerant areas of the country and allow him to use the men’s room.
“You don’t need a license to go to the bathroom, he would just go right in,” she says. “They wouldn’t know it. I wouldn’t need a birth certificate for him to use the bathroom. And if anyone questioned it I would just tell them to mind their own business and he is going to use that bathroom — that’s exactly what I would say.”
“I would say ‘Does he look like he belongs in the girls bathroom? You’ve got to be kidding.’ It was the same thing with Cub Scouts, I was like, ‘Does he look like he should join the Girl Scouts?’ “
Maldonado says Joe began showing signs that he was transgender at 2, and she has come to realize that being transgender isn’t a choice Joe made — it’s just who he is.
“For a long time I was up every night from midnight to 6, reading so many books and worrying. Then finally there was a turning point that I put my hands up and said, ‘It is what it is,’ ” she says.
She educated herself on what it means to be transgender, and now she hopes she can help others understand that transgender people are no threat to anyone — in or out of the bathroom.
“This is not a phase, this is how they feel day in and day out — everyday,” she says. “In the mirror they see themselves as their identity: It’s between the ears not what’s between the legs.
“Also, most of the time you won’t even know you’re going to a bathroom with a transgender person — people are not peeping under the stalls,” she says. “I think this is all about people just being uneducated, thinking they are in danger. They think it’s about sexual orientation, but it’s not, it’s about gender identity.”
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Although Joe is still young enough for his parents to watch over him closely, Maldonado says she does fear for the future when they are not able to be there to protect him.
“I don’t like to think about that too much because when I think about that I can’t sleep,” she says. “I was literally getting myself sick thinking about it — just thinking about issues before anything happened — so I said, ‘Let me enjoy the moment and enjoy life now and when the time comes, then worry.’ “