On behalf of PFLAG SANTA CLARITA, I would like to thank the William S. Hart Administrative Academy for hosting last week’s presentation that dealt with creating a physically and emotionally safe campus environment for the district’s transgender students. I am delighted to see how attitudes and perceptions have changed in so many ways since I began my counseling career at Hart High School in 1985.
Back in the late ’80s, shortly after our son came out to his dad and me, my counseling colleagues asked me to arrange a panel of gay and lesbian alumni to address one of our monthly counseling meetings. The goal was to have the kids share with us what we, as counselors, could do to help this student population feel welcome and safe when they came to school each day.
I was able to find eight students who represented all of the district’s junior highs, high schools and our continuation school, as well. I provided them a list of suggested topics for discussion, we set the date of the meeting, and we were off!
Now, this was a time when sexual orientation was not discussed anywhere. The AIDS epidemic was raging and gay men were pariahs…
This was also a time when a group of 400 community protesters gathered in front of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Valencia to demean a lesbian teacher from the L.A. Unified School District who was to address a University of Phoenix Continuing Education Class.
Her topic was “The safety needs of our gay and lesbian student population.”
At that rally, the president of one of our schools’ PTOs emphatically declared that her son, a 12-year product of our valley schools, had NEVER had a GAY student in any of his classes.
We counselors saw the need for this panel even more. In early August, when our district coordinator of student support services requested a meeting with me, I was looking forward to sharing our progress toward securing the panel. When I entered her office, however, she told me that the panel was off; the then-superintendent felt that having gay and lesbian alumni address a group of professional high school counselors might be perceived by the community as PROMOTING homosexuality…
Since that time, in large measure due to greater understanding of the LGBTQ community (bisexual and transgender individuals were conspicuously invisible in the ’80s) and the efforts of the Hart District to provide equally for all of its students, tremendous strides have been made. Many of our gay, lesbian and bisexual students are out and proud. Acceptance and inclusion by their peers, teachers and administrators has risen tremendously, all of our high schools and several junior highs have GSAs (gay-straight alliances), and soon, full compliance with the FAIR ACT will allow these students to see positive role models in their class curricula.
Yet, there is one group who is still left out, misunderstood, verbally maligned, physically abused, and, for whom school is, physically and emotionally, an agonizing experience. This is our transgender student population. The Hart District recognizes this and wants to help.
Consequently, last week, PFLAG SCV presented a panel, including two experts who specialize in the care of gender non-conforming children and transgender youth, to all of our district’s principals and vice-principals.
Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, the medical director of the Center for Trans Youth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, has appeared frequently on national television and has spoken at conferences and symposiums both nationally and internationally to educate providers, parents, educators and other communities about the needs of transgender youth.
Her husband, Aydin Olson-Kennedy, a licensed clinical social worker and the executive director of the Los Angeles Gender Center, has spent the last seven years of his career as a mental health provider focused upon creating accessible mental health care for the gender non-conforming and transgender community and their families.
Hart District stakeholders, Erin Kotecki-Vest, the mother of two teenagers, one of whom is transgender, and Finey Walker, a transgender senior who attends Academy of the Canyons, also addressed the group, sharing their personal experiences.
Hart District, thank you very much for inviting us to provide this valuable, scientifically and experientially based information to your administrative personnel. I know that all of the attendees want every student to feel welcome at their schools and each will do everything possible to make this become a reality.
I hope that hearing the information provided by the speakers last week will assist them in achieving this goal.
Peggy Stabile is a 39 year resident of Santa Clarita. In 1988, together with her husband, Jeff, she co-founded PFLAG SANTA CLARITA in response to a lack of information and support for the local LGBTQ community and their families. She serves as secretary and coordinator of educational outreach for the local PFLAG chapter.