LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. - When word got out that Mr. McBeth, a popular substitute teacher at two South Jersey school districts was about to come back to class as Miss McBeth, it caused an uproar.
William McBeth had undergone sex reassignment surgery and was now Lily McBeth. The schools' 2006 decisions to keep her on as a substitute were hailed around the nation as a model of tolerance and acceptance of transgender Americans.
But the storybook ending never happened: She has gotten only a handful of assignments since then and is resigning in frustration.
"When I got the news from the school board that I would be retained, I was thrilled," she said. "I thought, 'They consider me a person of worth, and that I could still be a valuable asset.'
"But it didn't happen."
Before her transition from male to female in 2005, McBeth said, she averaged 15 to 18 assignments a year as a substitute teacher for elementary students in the Eagleswood School District and 16 to 20 a year for high school students in the Pinelands Regional School District, which is based in Little Egg Harbor Township.
Afterward, she said, she got only two assignments per year at both districts.
"All they did was put me in a closet again," she said. "They boxed me in and kept me there."
McBeth, 75, sent a letter yesterday to the Eagleswood Board of Education saying she would not return as a substitute this fall, and plans to give similar notice soon to the Pinelands district.
Jennifer Boylan, an English professor at Colby College in Maine and author of the best-selling autobiographical novel, She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, said transgender people continue to suffer discrimination.
"It seems like a good teacher is being judged for something other than her talent, and we should all be able to agree that's not fair," said Boylan, who transitioned in 2000. "My heart goes out to Lily and all people who have to fight prejudice as a result of who they are."
Superintendent Deborah Snyder said Eagleswood wanted McBeth to return this fall. She denied bias was involved, adding the district has hired a permanent substitute to report to work each day and fill in as needed.
For other classroom vacancies, the district turns to its list of certified teachers. Only after that is exhausted does it call subs from the local hiring list that included McBeth.
"We wanted to see her back on our sub list," Snyder said. "If she makes the decision not to return to our district, we wish her all the best in the future."
Pinelands Superintendent Detlef Kern declined to comment.
McBeth said she missed interacting with students in the classroom.
"I tried to be an example of something you might want to be when you grow up: a kind, caring person," she said.
While some parents objected at public meetings to McBeth continuing to teach after becoming a woman, many students were supportive.
"I can see where some people might have concerns, but people just need to get over it," one Pinelands high school student said in 2006.
McBeth, a retired marketing executive with three children, plans to stay busy with hobbies, which include work to help reestablish clam colonies in Barnegat Bay. She also acts in local theater productions and sings in a church choir.
"I could sue them over the violation of my medical privacy rights, but what would that accomplish?" she said. "I'm not in this for the money, and I have to be able to sleep peacefully at night. I'm just going to enjoy the rest of my life."