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Lily McBeth Pioneered Classroom Opportunities For Transgender Teachers

ARUN RATH, HOST:

We're continuing our remembrance of some of the lesser-known figures who died this year - people whose names you may not know but had an impact on the world. Turning now to a substitute teacher from New Jersey who, in 2006, brought transgender issues into the national conversation. 2006 wasn't that long ago, but it was a time before breakout TV shows like "Transparent" and "Orange Is The New Black" showed transgender characters in realistic leading roles. Teacher Lily McBeth ignited a controversy when a New Jersey school board rehired her following male-to-female sexual reassignment surgery. That angered some parents and started a public debate over whether transgender individuals should be allowed to teach. Leslie Farber is an attorney who represented McBeth. She believes lack of exposure to transgender people led to the uproar.

LESLIE FARBER: There's something wrong about this or something questionable about this that somehow this teacher - if the children were aware of it - would somehow want to change their gender afterwards.

RATH: Farber recalls McBeth's response to the negativity surrounding her reinstatement.

FARBER: You know, she took it all in stride. She kind of wasn't really surprised by that, but it didn't sway her at all. She did not cower to that. She knew that she was doing the right thing.

RATH: However, after the decision, McBeth was seldom called back into the classroom before retiring. She spent her remaining years as an advocate of LGBT equality in education and spoke widely on the subject. Lily McBeth died in September. She was 80 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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