Transgender students want to be heard

Transgender students want to be heard

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Six transgender teenagers from the Lowcountry who often fight for rights many of us take for gr anted are sharing their stories, and almost do so apologetically.

They sat down to talk about problems they face at school, and they talked for hours.

"When he came out, they said they've never even had someone come out who was gay," said Sara, whose 13-year old son, Gabriel, is in middle school.

"Not many understand or have heard of transgender before," Gabriel said.

What Gabriel and the five other students share in common is they don't identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. These students have transitioned, like celebrities Chaz Bono, Jazz Jennings, Laverne Cox and Caitlin Jenner.

This summer, Jenner was honored on national television with an award for courage.

"It's not that much of a help for middle schoolers, cause not a lot of them are reading about Caitlin Jenner and stuff like that," Gabriel said.

Gabriel's mother says he's been bullied at school and shamed by the school bus driver, who separated student riders by gender, with girls on one side of the bus, and boys on the other.

"And he tried to explain to her on the bus that he's transgender and he identifies as a male and she told him, 'Well on this bus you're a female,'" Sara said.  Calling the driver's supervisor, his mother says she was asked inappropriate questions. "She was asking me to verify that he was born female and was now male and did he have a sex change," Sara said.

That's no one's business, she says. What matters is her son's identity.

Even the teens' name changes cause them problems. Another student, Sera, says a middle school teacher got in trouble for using Sera's preferred name.

"Then no teachers were allowed to call me by something that's not a version of my first, middle or last name, so I was no longer allowed to be called Sera," she said.

Now in high school, Sera is president of her class. Things are much better.

"A crazy amazing difference, they immediately changed my name in power school," she said.

Power school is the school district's electronic record, a huge source of pain for transgender students.

"Right now my name isn't legally changed yet, so I had this incident recently," said Luke, a high school student. Luke says his legal name appeared on the smart board in class.

"He (the teacher) had the roster posted on the board and everyone saw my legal name," Luke said. "I also have had yearbook trouble. My name wasn't changed in the yearbook."

And it's not changed in the office, when he signs out of school. "And here I am hearing my legal name again," Luke said.  Asked what that's like for him?  He responded, "Like I'm being stabbed in the back."

Luke hands out  small cards that say "hello, my name is LUKE."  On the back, the card offers websites, to explain how his new identity hasn't changed the person inside.

He hopes the kids in the halls will call him Luke.

Melissa Moore, of the support group "We Are Family" says local districts could do more to help the students with their names in school records.

"There should be no resistance to changing it in the student ID, yearbook, any of those things. Every kid has the right to go by a preferred name," she says.

It is expensive to legally change your name, the families of these kids argue. One mother pointed out that society accepts people who go by something other than their birth name. Lady Gaga is a famous example.

Then, there's another adjustment.

"No one's called me 'he,'" Gabriel said of his first weeks of school. "The best I can do is just tell people who ask me, try to explain it, but most people aren't that accepting," he said.

To help create an atmosphere of acceptance at high school, Sabian helped found a support group.

"So it would make it easier to have someone to go to," Sabian said.

Support for the kids and the families also comes from the organization "We are Family."

Melissa Moore said the group offers training for schools, but local districts aren't taking advantage. "More and more kids are coming out as transgender, and our infrastructure is not there to support that,"  Moore said.

School districts tell us they work with individual students, based on their needs.

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