By Makenna Dreher
Doors were wide open at Southside Commons in Columbia City where allies came together to collaborate on ways to make safety and inclusion a reality for transgender and gender-diverse students in Seattle schools.
Parents, educators, administrators, students, medical professionals and advocates gathered at the community forum hosted by TRANSform Washington and Inclusive Washington on October 16, 2018, to plan more supportive spaces for transgender students.
TRANSform Washington is a public education campaign, supported by the Pride Foundation, that works with transgender youth and children in K-12 schools. The group collaborates with other transgender organizations, and works with queer and transgender people of color to ensure that transgender and gender-diverse people are safe from discrimination while celebrating diversity and elevating voices and stories.
With ideas such as better training for teachers and students, improved anti-bullying protocol, representation in curriculum, and up-to-date sex education in Seattle K-12 schools, attendees of the forum expressed frustration and hope during the forum.
Luna Crone-Baron, a seventh-grader in the Seattle Public Schools, is a facilitator in her school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and was an active participant at the forum.
In GSA organizations, students who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community come together to talk about their feelings and the tough issues they face day to day and promote advocacy on their campuses, according to Crone-Baron.
“Sadly, there haven’t been a lot of changes yet,” said Crone-Baron. “Last year our GSA was much more of a social club and this year we are definitely starting to make it more of an activist club.”
Her goals for this year are to gather more input from people in the community, collaborate more with TRANSform Washington, and reach out to other school’s GSA clubs to see what advocacy work they do.
“I know lots of kids who have to find their family at school,” Crone-Baron said. “We need to be making sure that every staff member who is working at Seattle Public Schools has intensive training where they know how to communicate with kids to know what their needs are before trying to explain what that child’s needs are.”
Schools need to implement better training so every classroom is a safe place for students, said Crone-Baron.
“It just happens that sometimes kids are jerks,” Crone-Barone said. “Having a supportive staff is really great, but I also know that there are schools in the district that have staff that aren’t supportive or won’t be there to have kids’ backs.”
Seattle Public Schools recently implemented new Gender Book Kits for all K-5 schools, which focus on gender and gender identity topics. Yet, curriculum alone is not enough for gender-diverse students to feel safe, included, and supported, according to Crone-Baron.
“I would feel safer if teachers were trained more,” Crone-Baron said.
Isyss Honnen, a transgender woman and the community engagement coordinator for TRANSform Washington, works one on one with many transgender and gender-diverse youth in Seattle.
She said It has been a long process to get community members more interested in supporting this cause and to do something about it.
“We’re still trying to get more interest from educators, administrators, parents,” said Honnen. “It’s slowly moving and we have a lot of support from trans youth and also their parents who are amazing advocates for their children.”
“Another big part of our work is ensuring that our voices are elevated and that we’re in charge of our own storytelling and to make sure that the themes that we are pulling out from these stories better benefit the communities we come from,” said Honnen. “There’s still a lot of work to do but we have so much interest from our partners, our trans youth and parents.”
Washington state law protects people from malicious harassment because of gender or sexual orientation, yet TRANSform Washington is working on supporting legislation that would specifically protect students in Washington schools from bullying and harassment.
“During this next legislative session there might be a bill that is introduced on bullying, harassment, and intimidation for Washington state schools,” said Jeremiah Allen, project director for TRANSform Washington. “There will be an opportunity to be a part of that effort soon.”
As TRANSform Washington continues the process of making open spaces for transgender and gender-diverse students, youth still come face to face with issues every day in school.
“Everyone is different and everyone has their own needs,” Crone-Baron said. “There is no definition of transgender or LGBTQ+. Students should be their own voice.”