March 3, 2006 — -- A New Jersey town is divided after the school board voted to allow a teacher to return to school after undergoing a sex change.
For the last five years, William McBeth has been a substitute teacher at Eagleswood elementary school, but it will be Lily McBeth, 71, who will fill in for sick teachers. McBeth underwent a sex change last year.
During a heated school board meeting this week, the community stood divided on the 4-1 decision to allow McBeth to return to the classroom.
"I will not allow you to put my kids in a petri dish and hope it all comes out fine," said parent Mark Schneep, who had taken out an ad in a local newspaper urging parents to attend the meeting.
Others were as passionate about their support for McBeth.
"I don't see how this is an issue, honestly, because he's a totally competent teacher and I don't see how that could have changed," said student Leandra Bourdot, 17.
To the outside world, it appeared like William McBeth had grown up as a man's man. In his younger years, he was an athlete, a soldier and a surfer. In 1962, he was featured in a Sports Illustrated centerfold on "Bold Americans," the modern-day equivalent of extreme athletes.
William McBeth was married for 33 years and is the father of three children -- a son and two daughters.
"My path was a very common path," McBeth said. "They're growing up male, but they're fighting with themselves. They're trying to disguise it, trying to do something to get rid of it. I engaged in macho activities like surfing. The damned thing is that you can't tell anyone. I got married and had children, raised them. It was a perfect family."
While the rest of the world was blind to McBeth's internal struggle, McBeth said she knew from the time she was 3 years old that she was different. But it wasn't until she was "free of those bonds of marriage and fatherhood," that she felt free to pursue her own happiness.
"I realized I was a person of worth who didn't have to question myself anymore," McBeth said. "I'm proud of who I am."
McBeth can understand why some have a hard time dealing with her decision. Her own children struggle with it.
"At times, it's difficult," McBeth said. "You have to remember they're going through the same process everyone else has to, and I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe."
But McBeth said the concerns of the Eagleswood parents were misdirected.
"They are projecting their thoughts into their children, their own insecurity and fears," McBeth said. "Children don't have those concerns. Their little minds are very curious and open to new ideas. It's not the children up there screaming about this."
McBeth said she was prepared to deal with any curiosity of her students, who have previously known her as a man.
"You don't discuss those things with a child in the classroom, no matter what it is … nothing [to] do with anything in your personal life," McBeth said. "You put that aside until the appropriate time. You simply say, 'I can discuss that with you at another time outside of the classroom.'"
Right now, McBeth is just waiting for the early morning call asking her to substitute teach and enjoying her new life as Lily.
"I don't really have to defend myself to other people. Their problem is not a problem for me," McBeth said. "I'm proud of who I am."