A year ago, GLSEN Greater Wichita received an email from a middle-school social worker. The school’s leadership team expressed interest in learning how to support two transgender students who were beginning to live as their authentic selves. The administration made it clear that providing support for all students and their whole identities is key to their success.
The team invited GLSEN Greater Wichita to do a short presentation for the administration, and over the course of the following year, 16 educators (including administrators, the school psychologist, the school nurse, a P.E. teacher and several classroom teachers) took our professional development training on how to create a positive school climate for LGBTQ students. Equipped with this training plus GLSEN’s model district policy for transgender and gender nonconforming students, the middle school’s leadership team began creating a school where students could safely be their authentic selves.
GLSEN Greater Wichita also recommended that the school create a GSA. Since GLSEN research shows that LGBTQ students with a GSA experience lower rates of peer victimization and greater feelings of safety, the leadership team saw the value in having a supportive school club, and by the spring semester, the school became the first middle school in the area – and possibly in the state – with a GSA, and it was one that was trans-inclusive.
The results of the professional development and the newly formed GSA were clear. With the exception of one tough parent phone call, the administration has only heard support and thanks from parents of their trans students and from GSA members. The school social worker told me about helping four transgender students with the transition process (name changes, new badges, etc.): “One key thing that stands out for me is the sense of relief I see on their faces and in their body language when the change becomes ‘official.’ It makes my job absolutely worth it to know that these students finally feel comfortable in their own skin in such a public way.”
Like so many others, I am disheartened by last week’s election results. We risk losing the progress we’ve made at the federal level to protect transgender students. But what we’re not losing are the community advocates and passionate educators, like those at this middle school, who are committed to protecting all students, even here in the middle of Kansas. The power of advocates at the local level remains strong, and it’s even more critical now that we work to protect transgender students in our local communities.
When news of the success of this middle school’s efforts spread to other educators in Wichita, they were inspired to take action in their own schools. Currently, there are two middle-school GSAs in Wichita and several other middle schools getting started or getting their educators trained to ensure that all students feel safe, valued and respected in school. Regardless of what’s to come, we will not lose our momentum or our hope.
This Trans Awareness Week, I am reaffirming my commitment to protecting transgender students here in Kansas. I urge you to join me by taking advantage of GLSEN resources at glsen.org/transwk and joining or starting a GLSEN Chapter. We have so much work left to do.
Liz Hamor is Co-chair of GLSEN Greater Wichita.