Hello, world. I’m the Dad of a transgender kid. I’m hoping our story will open some eyes, much as our eyes were opened by our son. His picture is in a powerpoint presentation given to the Michigan State Board of Education. The presentation explains this proposal: “Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students.” My name is Pete Tchoryk. I provided feedback to the guidance and spoke at the March meeting. I posted our story to our “Friends of Dexter Community Schools” group and we feel it is now time to share it beyond our community. Our family has not been stealth about our transgender journey. But we also haven’t been outspoken in social media until now, because of the inherent danger to transgender kids and the response you see in many communities. You know, pitch forks and all that. The risks, however, are completely outweighed by the urgency we feel in explaining this issue and helping the kids who have no voice.
I’m going to tell you our story, because I want you to know the origin of my advocacy. I’m an engineer and my wife is a teacher. Looking back five years ago, our life was quite uneventful, until our daughter Jacqueline started insisting she was a boy. She was around two years old when it started. The forcefulness and consistency of her appeals led us to seek expert advice from multiple doctors and counselors. We discovered we are not alone and that gender identify mismatch very often becomes apparent at that age. The pain of being cast in the wrong identity made life extremely difficult and nearly unbearable for her. It became clear that Jacqueline was really a boy. And he was wondering why we kept trying to put dresses on him.
The first thing we found out is that it’s hard to find factual information. We decided to ‘science the heck out of it’ (yes, that is derived from The Martian and one of the best movie lines – ever) and dove into learning everything we could. It turns out there is solid science behind it and in fact a longitudinal study showing that transgender kids are not making this up. By the way, there is also a new study in the February issue of the Journal of Pediatrics showing that supporting transgender kids in their identity has a huge positive impact on their mental health. It may ultimately have an impact on the 40+% of transgender people that attempt suicide. That would be good.
When it came time for Kindergarten, our school really had no previous experience in handling transgender issues. But they assured us their job was to create a safe and supportive learning environment for every child. Every. Child. And that’s what they did. We are fortunate. The problem is that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. Many people do not believe gender identity is real – they believe it is a choice made by misguided children, rebellious teens, or fame-seeking adults. They believe it is a mental illness that can be cured via therapy. They believe it is a threat. I’m here to say otherwise and give these kids a voice.
The reason I’m telling you all this is that it was the impetus for trying to provide the best, science-based, evidence-based information to the people who are making decisions on our kids’ behalf. Our state has amazing, caring, world-class educators and I’m not just saying that because I’m married to one (well, maybe partly because of that). But there is very little information to help educators address the practical issues they face on a daily basis, especially regarding transgender or gender variant kids, and this includes compliance with Title IX.
Let’s talk a bit about Title IX, because it is germane to discussions about what Dexter Schools is doing. “The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education issued official guidance which makes clear that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities.” (http://www.glsen.org/…/dept-ed-title-ix-protects-trans-stud…). In July 2015, a case in Virginia resulted in this ruling: “The Department of Justice (DOJ) affirmed in Tuesday’s court filing that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects the right of transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity.” (http://www.advocate.com/…/department-justice-affirms-title-…).
I will tell you my beliefs based on the data I’ve seen and what is seen in the school systems where this is in place. When you create a safer environment for LGBTQ kids, you create a culture of respect, tolerance, safety and inclusiveness for all kids. The guidance we are attempting to provide is based on studies, data and best practices from other schools and communities that have enacted similar guidance with successful results. It’s not perfect and I’m sure it will evolve. But it’s a start.
I’m right in the midst of addressing other issues that have been raised in the state about how transgender bathroom use poses a threat by opening the floodgates to sexual predators. This fear is being promoted widely, here and in other states. I have not seen any evidence supporting those fears, by the way, but there is evidence to the contrary. In breaking news, I just saw that the North Carolina Attorney General will not defend their Anti-LGBT House Bill 2 – he said it is unconstitutional (http://www.freedomforallamericans.org/north-carolina-attor…/). That’s a big step in the right direction.
If you feel your voice has not been heard, then by all means write to the state. Go to the meetings. If you have data or best practices evidence to support your claims, great. Submit it. That’s what this is all about. I applaud people raising awareness.
I just want to reiterate, my son is just like any other boy. He’s unique in many ways and typical in others. In his case, he loves wrestling. He loves football and baseball. And he loves building and inventing things. Especially with duct tape – that’s his medium. Just because he wasn’t born with the right parts doesn’t make him less of a boy. Maybe think of it like a war injury. A really bad one. It doesn’t make him a threat, any more than anyone else. Transgender students are trying their absolute best to fit in to their gender identity – not bringing attention to the fact that what’s under their clothes doesn’t match their identity. There was a recent news article that said we are trying to give them special treatment, as if it’s some big life bonus. Like a tax break. I’m going to tell my son that. Congratulations, kid, you get to use the bathroom of your identity. Knock yourself out. Oh, by the way, when you grow up you can get fired or denied housing just because you were born with the wrong parts. Yup, you got that special treatment.
I know it can be difficult to wrap your head around this topic. If you’ve never met or talked to a transgender kid or a transgender kid’s parent, now’s your chance. We can arrange a play date. Park your pitch forks by the door. Or we can talk at the next State Board of Ed meeting. Peace.
YOU CAN HELP! This was an awakening for me, personally. As I became aware of the life and death struggles of the transgender community, it also opened my eyes to the injustices and inequalities of all marginalized communities. I’m not proud that it took me this long, as a member of the privileged majority, to wake up. And I admire those who have been on the front lines of these battles long before me. But I will make up for lost time and I am dedicated to taking an active role in making this world a better place – not just for transgender kids – for all kids – and for those who struggle to obtain even the most basic civil and human rights. This is my pledge in honor of all the children who suffered unnecessarily and who took their own lives: I will not be silent. I will not allow unawareness to determine the fate of these kids. I will educate. I will advocate. I will fight for every one of them. I will fight for all kids. And I. Will. Not. Stop. Because, as Maya Angelou said, “equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it.”
This guidance will change lives. It will save lives. Heck, it may change the world. Please take a moment, if you can, and add your support to the comment section here: http://everyvoicecountsmi.org/…/public-comment-on-the-state…
Here are the morning (presentation) and afternoon (public comment) videos of the March State Board of Education meeting: Morning – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zo4LIXRYIwg Afternoon – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz1I4lU7RDQ
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Thanks,Peter, for sharing your situation. My grandson is active in these issues as he has 2 friends who have struggled and faced harassment. Unfortunately, they could only finally talk about it when they were teens.
Thanks for the comment, Carolyn. I love that this generation of children are so accepting compared to previous generations. When I was little, no one talked about about transgender.
Wow.. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have a transgender friend and a few acquaintances through him. I understand transgender very well as I have learned about it on a personal level. I don’t know why some people are born like this? But it doesn’t really matter. They are souls that God also loves just as much as he loves the rest of us. That’s what matters to me. Anyone who is different, like the LGBT community, the disabled and handicapped, the mentally ill and so on I have found to be the nicest people and some of the best friends. Their differences make them the beautiful loving people that they are. When you get into the political and legal rights, privileges and exceptions to the rules that all of these special people want I have varying opinions on those and on some topics I honestly don’t know how I feel. All I really know is I will treat them all with loving kindness and respect when I meet them. Your son is a very lucky boy to have you as parents. God bless you all on your journey!
Thanks for commenting, Paula. And thanks for becoming informed about transgender. If more people made an effort to understand, LGBT rights wouldn’t be such a struggle.