Around 60 people attend meeting to create better understanding of transgender students

Marlys Barker Nevada
Journal Editor

If you grew up feeling totally clear about how your body parts aligned with the gender your brain believed that you are, then you can consider yourself fortunate.

It’s not that easy for some people.

Last Thursday evening, Nevada’s community outreach group, Common Ground, joined forces with the Iowa Pride Network and One Iowa, to bring an educational program to Nevada High School. The program focused mostly on transgender issues that are facing some students in local communities, but it was also an outreach to the entire LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) community. It was hoped, as Cathy Vincent of Common Ground said, to be an “opportunity for all of us to have a safe and healthy conversation about a difficult topic… This is our chance to be educated about what our students face every day.”

Helping to facilitate the program was Nevada High School’s LGBT group, Cub Colors.

Sandra Zapata, coordinator for Iowa Pride Network, was the main presenter for the evening. Her goals, she indicated at the beginning of her talk, were to help the roughly 60 adults and students who gathered in the auditorium to understand the differences in the terms “gender” and “sex;” to understand the unique challenges faced by LGBT students, their friends and their families; and to propose strategies for creating safe places for students who are dealing with these issues.

Helping Zapata with the presentation was also Brittany Deal, an AmeriCorps member, who works with youth through One Iowa.

Zapata started by talking about the “little boxes” that society has created to tell us what “real men” and “good girls” are supposed to be, and audience members quickly responded to fill in the labels that we all know well. She also had nods of understanding when she asked if everyone knew the societal colors that tell us if something is for a boy, blue, or girl, pink.

“We have a system trying to put us in one of two boxes,” she said, and trying to put everyone into the “right” little box is “gender policing.”

Gender identity, Zapata said, is how people see themselves. “For many of us, gender identity aligns with how we were born,” she said. “However, for a lot of people, it doesn’t. That is what we call transgender.”

In a graphic, called the Genderbread Person (which you can see if you Google it), Zapata explained that gender identity, gender expression, biological sex and sexual orientation can each fall on a scale from very feminine to very masculine for every person. And how each of us lines up in each of those areas determines whether we are straight, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender.

Transgender people can transition at any age, she said, but many do not do it because they are afraid, or they can’t afford the medical expense of hormones and further transformational treatments.

Lucas Daniels of Gilbert, who is a senior at Gilbert High School, was on hand to talk about his own experience of transitioning from being a female to being a male. “I’ve been out (among his friends) as transgender for about 3 1/2 years and to my parents, about 2 to 2 1/2 years. And I’ve been a little over a year having my name changed,” he said, noting that he has also been taking hormones for awhile now.

Daniels said he started questioning his gender during his eighth-grade year. As he looked into the idea that he might be transgender, “it resonated very hard with me,” he said. He noted that he went through phases of going back and forth between trying to stay a female or trying to change to a male, which Zapata said is very common among young people who are transgender and trying to figure out what is right for them. Their gender can be very “fluid” for awhile.

Daniels said he’s been lucky to have a great support network of friends, some that he’s made through the PFLAG organization in Ames (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Zapata noted that it’s very important to have that network, because when people who are transgender don’t have a good support system, the suicide rate among those youth shows that two out of every three will try to kill themselves, and one out of each two that do, will succeed. This is why support groups and safe places are essential, Zapata stressed.

Zapata said Iowa has good protections for the LGBT population at this time. It is one of the 28 states where discrimination is illegal against lesbian, gay and bi-sexual people. Iowa is one of the 31 states where you cannot be fired for being transgender.

Vincent said the program was important for Nevada to have, as recent debates on social media between adults and bullying behavior among youth were escalating.

Cub Colors advisor at Nevada High School, Kimberly Huegerich, said, “I believe this was a well-received message in order to educate the public and bring to light current social topics. It was great to see the numbers we had for a first-time event like this… Since the forum we are receiving communication about how people can support Cub Colors… There has been a quiet support out there and Sandra Zapata from Pride Iowa has helped to bring this topic to the forefront.”

“Members of Common Ground saw an opportunity to facilitate critical conversations and support our community to spread compassion, respect and understanding,” Vincent said. “All people have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. We felt compelled to offer insight and understanding of the LGBT community and a glimpse of the tough challenges facing our youth each day.”

Vincent added, “There is a growing number of caring and compassionate residents of Nevada, who seek out every opportunity to lead by example, help others who are struggling and share knowledge and conversation about tough topics.”

The Nevada Journal plans an upcoming story to explain a little more about how the local school and community are doing what they can to help students of the LGBT community; and to share more about the personal experiences of several transgender students.