February 25, 2016

Transforming the Trans Discussion

Alissa Lampert ‘18


The twenty-­first century has come with great leaps for transgender rights and awareness, but acceptance from all people is still out of reach.
The awareness for transgender people shot up in December 2014 with the suicide of trans girl Leelah Alcorn, whose suicide note was spread across social media and news outlets. It explained that the restrictions placed by her parents, which stopped her from being the person she truly was, caused a depression that led her to kill herself.
However, Alcorn’s story was only the first of an endless stream of reports of trans people choosing to end their lives or having their lives ended for them. The growing awareness of issues in the transgender community has since seen an increase in publicity and notoriety.
Although an effective method of raising awareness, publicizing the deaths cannot solve all of the problems trans people face. News outlets will often misgender the trans person, refuse to acknowledge that their death came about from a hate crime, or slander them in their newsfeed.
Although social media may just be a lighthearted way to communicate, it is also where the true facts about trans people’s deaths truly lie.
The impressive awareness on Twitter and other media outlets, however, has yet to show its face in schools. Schools rarely teach about other genders besides cisgender, where one’s gender identity matches their assigned sex, leaving students unaware of other genders. Children who grow up in stereotypically religious households may never learn about tolerance of transgender people and might grow up thinking being transgender is a sin.
At the end of November 2015, TIME Magazine reported that a Wisconsin school had cancelled a reading of a book about a transgender girl after backlash from conservative parents. The school had planned this reading to honor one of its own students who had come out as transgender. Because some scared parents did not want their children exposed to a life they did not agree with, these children may now grow up unaware, or potentially even biased against trans people.
Golda Och is a much more progressive school than this Wisconsin school, but it still has its own issues.
When questioned about how they felt regarding GOA’s teaching of acceptance, one student said that, although GOA tries to be open and accepting, there is ignorance in relation to other genders in school activities, such as how gym teachers split up fitness levels based on the assumed gender of a person, rather than skill.
However, the student also praised GOA’s attempts at raising awareness, saying, “Something positive about our school is that sometimes they actually try. Last year we had our Judaic study day and they actually had a full study for Leelah Alcorn. They did really well, besides the exclusion of nonbinary genders, but they explained transgenderism, Leelah's negative experience and how society is really a bad place for [transgender people] well.”
Sophomore Dina Doctoroff agreed with this view.
“They’re not even mentioning [nonbinary genders],” Doctoroff said. “I didn’t even know about other genders until a friend mentioned it.”
Other students echoed Doctoroff’s comments, saying that the main place they learned about other genders, including transgender people, was from the media, not school.
“In general, our school is open minded,” sophomore Liora Finkel said, “but has very little experience regarding the LGBTQ+ community, so we would love to make everyone feel comfortable.”
Mr. Shapiro, the Head of School, feels that the school has seen a “tremendous amount of change” in the last 13 years in the area of gender identity and that it is an issue that falls in line with GOA’s mission as a Jewish day school.
“As a community, we need to understand nuances and practice what we preach,” he said. “The ultimate goal is school being as open and inclusive as possible.”
Shapiro’s words are not hollow, however, as they have been followed up with action. This school year, the guidance department has been to two conferences to discuss the topic and a delegation of students was sent to a separate event. The school is taking an initiative to further familiarize itself with the topic and become experienced.
Students and teachers alike are for promoting this issue’s awareness in the school and  upper school principal Ms. Stodolski could not agree more.
“From listening to conversations with guidance and Mr. Herskowitz,” she said, “I know that this is a school that wants to support the LGBT community.”
Stodolski specifically mentioned Keshet as a resource, as the organization works toward fostering equality and inclusion of LGBT youth in Jewish life. She also added that her time spent at Gan Academy in Waltham, MA and the Hudson School in Hoboken has provided her with somewhat of a frame of reference, as both schools strived to increase their support of LGBT students.
“[At the Hudson School] many students were out as homosexual, and as a result, there was a high level of comfort for all,” she said.
Shapiro and Stodolski are clearly a united front on this issue, and along with the guidance department and the support of the GOA student body, the way gender is discussed and viewed on campus should continue to evolve.

“Above everything else,” Shapiro said, “I want for every student to feel comfortable and accepted however they are or however they want to be seen.”

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