On Tuesday, November 3, PFLAG NYC was proud to take part in the New York City Department of Education’s first Transgender Youth Conference for more than 300 school counselors and other staff.
A team of presenters from the Safe Schools Program led two workshops on supporting families and fostering family acceptance for transgender youth with more than 80 attendees. Judy Sennesh, the leader of the TransParents Project, PFLAG NYC’s support group for families with transgender children, spoke with the counselors about the most common fears of parents when their child expresses gender in non-traditional ways or is transgender. Some common feelings are difficulty understanding how one doesn’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, and fear that their child will not be accepted or bullied by their peers.
Using family stories to increase understanding of LGBT issues is a guiding idea of our Safe Schools Program, so Judy also talked about her own experience with a trans son who came out in college. Amy Fabrikant movingly described her own experiences with the daily challenges faced by trans students in elementary school. Many such stories form the background to the children’s book she wrote, When Kayla was Kyle, that helps younger kids understand gender identity.
Finally, Samuel Nathanson had the rapt attention of the educators in the room as he shared the personal coming-out experience of a trans person. A recent college graduate, Samuel is not far removed from the experiences that many high school counselors are helping their students address.
More and more calls are coming into the Safe Schools Program office at PFLAG NYC from schools with transgender students. School leaders are seeking ways to educate their teachers and school communities about the issue. The NYC Department of Educations has strong policies protecting transgender youth, but it takes careful education and training to help all members of a school’s staff feel comfortable handling specific situations. Our team of workshop speakers were gratified to spend a full day with educators who were all there to learn how they can make their schools more inclusive and affirming places for transgender youth.
Other parts of the day-long conference included an opening address from Council Member Daniel Dromm, Chair of the New York City Council Education Committee. He stressed the importance of this event as the beginning of a brighter day for the transgender and gender non-conforming students in New York City public schools. Kim Westheimer of Gender Spectrum, an organization that helps schools create gender-sensitive environments and inclusive curricula for all children and teens, gave a keynote presentation on “Understanding Gender,” an overview of gender and gender identity concepts.
On the topic of gender identity, New York City schools have come a long way in a short time. PFLAG NYC was glad to be a part of progress happening. The first-ever Transgender Youth Conference was a positive step towards a more accepting school environment for transgender students in NYC public schools.