Monday, October 12, 2009

Matthew Shepard’s legacy - looking back and ahead on this anniversary.

Matthew Shepard was murdered eleven years ago today.
"... despite the passage of time and increased cultural visibility, the realities faced by LGBTQs today are 'no different than when Matthew Shepard was murdered."
~ Charles Robbins (Executive Director and CEO of
The Trevor Project.
Please read this excellent article:
Matthew Shepard’s legacy :: The fight continues
by Scott Stiffler, EDGE NYC, Monday Oct 12, 2009.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just Another Student Coming Out Story...

An eighth grader on my floor whom I taught when she was a sixth grader - and when I was "Ms. K" - stopped by my classroom at the end of the day today along with a friend of hers (whom I also taught as a sixth grader). I asked how she has been over the past year or two, since I was on a different floor last year and rarely got the chance to see their class during that time.

While she was updating me on her new teachers and how it feels to "rule the school" in eighth grade, the student added that she "has a man." I responded "Oh, yeah? What's his name? Is he in our school?" She looked at me, paused for a moment, and said "No, he's not in this school... And actually, I'm lying. I have a girlfriend!" She gave me a big smile at first but then immediately proceeded to say "But you're the only one who knows about it." I reassured her of my understanding of discretion, saying "Well, none of my current students know that I used to be Ms. K - at least not yet - so I understand keeping things quiet. Don't worry."

She proceeded to tell me that she and her girlfriend have been dating since May. (She has the date they began dating painted onto the strap of her backpack). Apparently she thinks her mom and many other people in her community have an idea that she's gay, but she's not worried about negative responses because - in her words - she is "too gay" for anyone to bother her about it. (I interpreted this to mean that she is so confident about her identity that nobody would try to give her any trouble about it.) She anticipates that people in her life will be relatively understanding and allow her to lead her life as she chooses. At one point in the conversation, she added "I love reading books about anything gay, or same sex. Woman and woman, man or man, I love it. I can't get enough. Anything, I tell you." Her uninhibited enthusiasm and excitement were inspiring.

What moved me the most about the conversation was how casual it felt. The student made it clear that she was completely comfortable approaching me to share this update, even though she had only spoken with a few close friends about it. The impromptu conversation this afternoon became one of those rare moments when I receive concrete feedback - in this case, two years after the fact - that at some point I did something to make a student feel safe and good about herself. That is one of the most gratifying things to know as an educator, even if I didn't necessarily know it at the time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back to School!

Week One of the school year is almost over in Brooklyn, which means that it's back to the Safe Schools Coalition blog for me!

Though I changed my legal name - first, middle, and last - over the summer, I opted to remain "Mr. Krywanczyk" at my school this year. "Mr. K" is an integral part of my identity there, and I wasn't able to change my name with the Department of Education early enough to give my school and coworkers adequate notice (by my personal estimation). After meeting my three new classes of sixth graders I find myself hoping that my trans-ness won't come up. Maybe that's delusional of me, since I taught some of our current eighth graders as "Ms. Krywanczyk" two years ago. However, I discovered on my arrival for in-service on Tuesday that I had been moved to a different floor from last year, which may increase the chance that my history will not arise in my classroom. Only time will tell.

The most immediate challenge for me this year stems from the fact that all three of my classes are CTT classes. This isn't a problem, per se, it's just that I've never taught a single CTT class before. I think that collaborating with a co-teacher who will be in my room every period and working with a larger number of students with IEPs is a great opportunity, but also a significant change. My co-teacher has been working with CTT classes for twenty-odd years, which is exciting. I already love working with her and have learned from her, too, which is a good sign. After Day Two, I feel hopeful!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Press statement: Task Force Action Fund applauds hearing on school safety through bullying prevention

Task Force Action Fund applauds hearing on school safety through bullying prevention
July 08, 2009

Pedro Julio Serrano
Communications Coordinator
(Office) 646.358.1479
(Cell) 787.602.5954

WASHINGTON, July 8 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund has submitted testimony to the United States House of Representatives Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities of the Committee on Labor and Education, highlighting the destructive effect of bullying and harassment on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and families. The Task Force Action Fund urged passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would fund school programs to prevent bullying and harassment on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
"Schools should be places of safety, not fear. Yet, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children and young adults, children and young adults who are perceived by peers to be LGBT, and the children of LGBT parents all remain at high risk of aggressive bullying and harassment. Sadly, the nation has recently witnessed many youth suicides that were caused by aggressive and unremitting school bullying targeted at a student's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This year, for example, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old in Massachusetts committed suicide because he faced daily and severe anti-gay bullying. As such examples demonstrate, unsafe schools can have profoundly destructive consequences.

"Bullying and harassment motivated by homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are national problems deserving of federal legislative attention. The Task Force Action Fund welcomes federal measures to increase school safety that are cognizant of the specific prejudices faced by LGBT students and families. As one such measure, we ask Congress to pass H.R. 2262, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would help schools deal with bullying and harassment that target a student's actual or perceived identity or associations with persons or groups on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. It would send a strong and clear message that schools have a duty to actively protect all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
To read the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund testimony, click here.

Download a high-resolution photo

To learn more about the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, follow us on Twitter: text@TheTaskForce.


The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, founded in 1974 as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Inc., works to build the grassroots political power of the LGBT community to win complete equality. We do this through direct and grassroots lobbying to defeat anti-LGBT ballot initiatives and legislation and pass pro-LGBT legislation and other measures. We also analyze and report on the positions of candidates for public office on issues of importance to the LGBT community. The Task Force Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation incorporated in New York. Contributions to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund are not tax deductible.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nathan OUTloud interview with Kim Pearson regarding TYFA and the "Rob, Arnie & Dawn Show"

In Nathan OUTloud episode on June 14th, host Nathan Treanor interviews TYFA co-founder Kim Pearson regarding TYFA and the events from the "Rob, Arnie & Dawn Show" on KRXQ in Sacramento, California that started with the May 28th show.

Nathan OUTloud is a bi-weekly podcast dedicated to sharing stories from the LGBT community.

Go to the Nathan OUTloud site to listen to: Episode 5 - Kim Pearson from TransYouth Family Allies 36:40 minutes

Find out more about: TransYouth Family Allies (TFYA)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thank you Rob, Arnie, and Dawn for an excellent show this morning

I listened to the "Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning" show this morning and I have to say I was very impressed. It was clear that they really got it that they had crossed the line on the show and then made it worse a week later by telling people that it was just a joke.

What seems to have impacted them the most in getting there is that their regular listener audience told them that what they had done and said was not okay.

I could tell that they took time to really connect with people -- to open their minds and hearts to the responses they got -- and it changed them. And they have the guts to go on the air and admit how they screwed up and do a show that really deal with it.

Today they spent from 7:30 AM to 10 AM on the show talking about this. The guests they brought in were Kim Pearson and Autumn Sandeen who were excellent, and they had callers to the show also and handled that very well.

This is what they posted on their homepage after the show:
UPDATED JUNE 11TH, 2009, 10:45AM

We would like to thank our two very special guests for stopping by and sharing their stories with us. If you would like to learn more about them, please visit the following links.

To learn more about Kim Perason and the TransYouth Family Allies organization visit

And to read Autumn Sandeen's online contributions visit

If you miss today's show, you can download the full two and a half hours directly from this web site by clicking on the links to the left.

Thank you,

The Rob, Arnie & Dawn Show
Because the show's homepage may change in time I am linking directly to the show that happened today here:

- Hour 1 Of Transgender Response
- Hour 2 Of Transgender Response
- Last Part Of Transgender Response

Doing the show they did today takes guts, and I applaud Rob and Arnie for that - for being willing to publicly not only say that their behavior was wrong, and not just to apologize on the air, but to spend the whole show today talking about it so that other people can learn and understand with them.

Again thank you Dawn for being such a good ally. Your voice in all this was very much appreciated.

And thank you Kim and Autumn for your parts in this whole experience.

It's very good to be able to see something like this turn out for the good. It is an example of what we can hold up to show people that there is reason to hope and to do this work we do.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Updates on "the transgender controversy" and the "Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning" show

Note: this is an update on my June 3rd post below, Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning - "the transgender controversy".

I checked and you can now listen to the
entire segment of this show on the player on the GLAAD site here:


On June 5th GLAAD posted updated information on their
website about ten companies that have pulled their advertising from KRXQ, the Sacramento California radio station that hosts the Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning show:
The entire listing of companies include:
  • Chipotle
  • Snapple
  • Sonic
  • Bank of America
  • Verizon
  • Carl’s Jr (CKE Restaurants)
  • Wells Fargo
  • Nissan North America
  • AT&T
  • McDonald’s
For more information, read UPDATE: McDonald’s Is 10th Company to Pull KRXQ Advertising on the GLAAD website.


This was posted today, Sunday June 7, 2009 on >The Rob, Arnie & Dawn Show website: - and because it is posted on their homepage which I expect will change, I am posting the message here rather than linking to it:

UPDATED JUNE 7TH, 2009, 11:50AM








So since thier show is broadcast out of Sacramento California, that will be 7:30 AM Pacific time this Thursday.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning - "the transgender controversy"

I've been following a story I first heard about on a PFLAG listserv and Facebook about the Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning show that airs on KRXQ - 98.5 FM Sacramento, CA..

The hosts are dealing with what they refer to as "the transgender controversy" after a recent show.

I found some information on the GLAAD website:
June 2, 2009— In a lengthy May 28 tirade on the Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning radio show heard in Sacramento, California on KRXQ 98.5 FM and Reno, Nevada on KDOT 104.5 FM, hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States verbally attacked transgender children. While discussing a recent story about a transgender child in Omaha, Nebraska and her parents’ decision to support her transition, the two hosts spent more than 30 minutes explicitly promoting child abuse of and making cruel, dehumanizing and defamatory comments toward transgender children.
Read the whole action alert here on the GLAAD site:
TAKE ACTION: Demand that KRXQ Radio Hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States Apologize for Encouraging Violence Against Transgender Children

The link to the audio file was only a 17 second clip, and I was unable to find the whole show.

But I did find this June 2nd article by Michael Rowe on Huffington Post:
KRXQ Sacramento Radio Hosts Encourage Violence Against Transgender Children.

Then I went to the homepage for the Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning show:
The show is described there as:
A five hour, listener interactive radio program that many people describe as just three regular people sitting around the breakfast table trying to make sense of the world. We prefer to think of it as three really abnormal miscreants of society who have stumbled upon this line of work and are making everybody else pay for it.
I scrolled down to this:
  • Listen to Rob, Arnie & Dawn's response to the transgender controversy by clicking on the audio file links below...
and I did that.

I had to download the audio files to my computer (an option with RealPlayer) in order to listen to them because when I tried listening to them online the audio was skipping and I was missing hearing parts. But that may have been when there was a lot of traffic on the site.

Here are the audio files:

06.03.09 - The Rob & Arnie Transgender Controversy 49.09 minutes

06.03.09 - Transgender Controversy Continued 22.46 minutes

06.03.09 - The Evolution of Tolerance 6.42 minutes

06.03.09 - Haters & Supporters of Rob & Arnie 5.58 minutes

06.03.09 - Seperating Transgenders & Mental Patients 7.50 minutes

06.03.09 - More Listeners React To Transgender Controversy 9.04 minutes

06.03.09 - Listeners Still Love RAD 6.01 minutes

Wow. It's a twisted time talking about gender identity, about bullying, hate speech, hate crimes, freedom of speech and much more - from more than one side. I found it a disturbing and in an almost clinical way an interesting look at how these three particular people hashed the subject among each other, with callers to the show, and sharing emails they have received.

I was SO glad that Dawn Rossi was part of the show because she is an outspoken ally. Thank you Dawn.

Anyone else have something to say on this? Please comment here.

And if you want to respond to the folks at the show, this is from the GLAAD Alert:
Please contact KRXQ management in Sacramento, California, where the show is produced and demand that radio show hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States publicly apologize. Call on KRXQ to hold Williams and States accountable for their remarks and establish clear standards to ensure their media platform will not be used to condone or promote violence against any parts of the communities they serve.

John Geary
Vice President & General Manager
(916) 339-4209

Arnie States
On Air Personality
(916) 334-7777

Rob Williams
On Air Personality
(916) 334-7777

Please use the share page functionality at the top of this page to alert any of your friends and others who may also wish to take action. When contacting KRXQ, please ensure that your emails and phone calls are civil and respectful and do not engage in the kind of name-calling or abusive behavior.

Friday, May 29, 2009

HIV/AIDS and Sixth Graders.

During our school-wide Projects Week last week, a coworker and I collaborated on a week-long examination of HIV/AIDS in the United States with a group of 32 sixth grade students who were assigned to us. About half of the students in the group were students whom I teach reading and writing on a daily basis – but the other half are students that I only recognize from brief interactions in the hallways.

The political insight and openness of the students in our group impressed and inspired me. By the second day, students were raising their hands and asking questions like “Wait, why aren’t people in U.S. prisons allowed to use condoms?” and “Why don’t we have needle exchanges in the U.S.?” My colleague and I gave them structured time to discuss these observations and questions as a class, and to think about what they, as youth and as students, could do to combat the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in communities of color in the United States.

Throughout the week, we discussed stigma and stereotypes, health care, access to testing and medication, and the astronomical rates of incarceration of young black and Latino men for drug-related charges. We also incorporated personal aspects of the issue – and my coworker and I even opened up with our students about our own personal connections to HIV/AIDS. A few students shared their experiences and how HIV/AIDS had affected their lives or families.

The project also - inevitably - sparked many conversations about sex and sexuality that don't tend to crop up in students’ everyday academic lives. Our focus during the week wasn't primarily sex education, but we attempted to address the sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS without perpetuating a sex-negative, “this is what happens if you have sex!” fear. We wanted to avoid the too-common, morbid, depressing “AIDS = DEATH” message that students often get from the popular media and educators. Our goals included creating a space that was sex-positive and that emphasized the fact that contracting HIV/AIDS, while a very serious threat that should be actively avoided and prevented, does not necessarily end a person's social or sexual life (especially if they have access to medications and resources). That was a challenging line to walk with sixth graders, but once again our students proved themselves capable of grappling with the complexity of the issue.

We were also able to engage in class discussions about why so many celebrities and organizations are giving money to fight AIDS in foreign nations while ignoring the fact that the virus is rampant in particular communities right here in the United States. One student raised his hand during this conversation and made the point “If the people who were getting AIDS here were white, the government would care more.” (I almost wanted to ask him to teach a seminar on the issue, after he made that point.)

During the week, sex and same-sexuality came up very often. Every time the topics of sex in prisons, or the Down-Low, or men who have sex with men arose, I caught myself tensing up as though bracing for a difficult conversation. But our students proved me wrong and proved themselves more than able to listen, talk, and engage with these issues in an intellectual, nuanced and sophisticated way. The entire week, we encouraged them to take a critical lens to the materials we were examining – which included an ABC News documentary on “AIDS in Black America” from 2007 – to see if students trusted the sources or not. Then, at the end of the week, our group shared our findings and thoughts with other groups of students from around the school who visited our classroom. Overall, it was a great success and made me feel hopeful.

Since Projects Week ended, I have overheard homophobic slurs and negative uses of the word “gay” more frequently. Perhaps it is the time of year, as students get more restless and my sixth graders prepare to become seventh graders. I'm not sure. But any time I have heard a misuse or abuse of "gay" or "homo," I have addressed it with the student in question and asked him or her to find a word that more accurately describes his or her feelings. In light of this increasingly visible homophobia, I have also made a concerted effort to incorporate queer authors into my curriculum, as I believe that can give students different perpsectives on LGBTQ matters.

As part of our current poetry unit, I devoted a week to the poems of Langston Hughes and to learning about Hughes body of work, his life, and the Harlem Renaissance. Many students quickly became very attached to Hughes’ poems, finding them inspiring and moving. At the very end of the week, I told my students that one fact about Hughes that didn’t come out in the biographical text we had read about him was his romantic involvement with men. My classes were shocked, but then able to reflect on how – if at all – that new piece of information changed their interpretation and understanding of his poems, and why it had been left out of biographies about Hughes. It was another great conversation.

In hindsight, I realize I (kind of) lured them into a sort of pro-gay trap. Just don’t tell any right-wingers I said that.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Open Letter to Oprah

Dear Oprah,

First, thank you so much for your recent show that featured the mothers of 11-year old suicide victims Carl Hoover-Walker and Jaheem Herrera . You are wonderful for launching this conversation about the devastating consequences of bullying and what we can do about it.

That said, I was really disappointed that, despite both boys having found anti-gay bullying so gut-wrenching, your professional guests addressed bullying without ever talking about the URGENT importance of addressing homophobia and prejudice through EDUCATION. The best bullying programs and the best psychologists working one-on-one with bullied kids won’t put an end to anti-gay bullying. Until we’re willing to have teachers talk about gay people respectfully, kids will use homophobia as the weapon that our silence puts in their hands.

What else do I wish you would do?
1. Check out
2. Have someone on the show to talk about the work of the Safe Schools Coalition.
3. Invite Kim Westheimer to talk about the Human Rights Campaign's wonderful Welcoming Schools project.
4. Have Debra Chasnoff of Groundspark talk about their amazing film-based curricula.
5. Invite Stephanie Brill of Gender Spectrum to talk about her unbelievable work with schools.
6. Invite the folks from the Committee for Children, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League to talk specifically about how their bullying programs address bias-based bullying, and anti-LGBT bullying in particular.
7. Ask principals and curriculum directors to put aside preparing children for high stakes testing just one week every year and focus for that week on prejudice reduction
~ a day about religious diversity and, at older grades, prejudice against the religious (of various faiths) and prejudice against the unchurched;
~ a day about immigration, refugees and, at older grades, about xenophobia and its costs all over the world;
~ a day about race and the history of racism and about white privilege and what it means to be an ally (actually that would be part of each of the 5 days);
~ a day about sexual diversity -- about families with lesbian, gay, bi and trans parents/guardians, about the contributions of LGBT people and, at older grades about homophobia and transphobia and the history of anti-LGBT brutality; and
~ a day about women who've changed the world and, in later grades about misogyny and violence against women and what some men and women are doing to change that.

If schools devoted just one week early in the year, every single year starting in elementary school, it could change climates dramatically. In combination with good anti-bullying programs, it could save the lives of the Carls and Jaheems, and the Gwen Araujos and Matthew Shepards too.

It is time schools worked to reduce the PREJUDICES that underly the most horrific bullying and not just the bullying (the symptom). Please take the lead on this, Oprah. Nobody has a voice like you do.

Beth Reis
Public Health Educator and Co-Chair of the Safe Schools Coalition
10501 Meridian Avenue N
Seattle, WA 98133

P.S. I hope your staffers watch the blogosphere, Oprah, because I couldn't find a place on your web site to say more than 180 characters and I couldn't figure out how to do this in that much space.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Question about terminology/labels

Becky Groves of PFLAG Central Oregon posted a question on a PFLAG listserv, and I think it is interesting - and that Safe Schools Coalition folks could offer some good insight to her and each other.

Becky wrote:
I have a question from a Human Sexuality instructor in my chapter. I thought I would put it out there for some input. Here it is:
"I have become increasingly aware of an awkward feeling whenever I use the term homosexual, heterosexual, gay, Lesbian, transgender, straight, etc.
It is unavoidable in my class because these are the terms that we have to use and it seems that they have been so institutionalized as to have become acceptable by all who use them.

Are you aware, or can you ask someone who would be aware if there is some movement afoot to change our vocabulary to excise these sexually based terms?
It seems to describe someone's personhood by what is done in private is so crazy and is frankly repugnant to me. I hate labels but it seems we are stuck with them unless or until we demand change. We don't call women who have had abortions, "aborters", or people who eat meat, carnivores (except in a nutritional definition perhaps) as their primary description, then why should we define individuals by what they do sexually?"
I know a lot of young people are refusing to label themselves. What do you think about this? What kind of terminology is being used by those that don't want "labels"? Are there any thoughts from National about a change in these labels that we all use?

Thank you in advance for your thoughts on this.
Please post your replies here on the Safe Schools Coalition blog.

If you are unable to post responses here for some reason, please send them to me by using this contact form and let me know what is okay to post (i.e. your message? name? contact information?).

Thank you,

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A short silent video about Day Of Silence

NotThatPrince posted this video on YouTube on April 15, 2009 and wrote:
This video is to raise awareness of the Anti-LGBT bullying that afflicts our schools. So GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) developed the Day of Silence, during which participants remain silent all day to echo the silence of those who are bullied for being (or appearing to be) an LGBT student.

The National Day of Silence brings attention
to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.

The 13th Annual National Day of Silence is Friday, April 17, 2009.

To learn more please visit:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Trouble with "Liberal" Teachers...

When reflecting on how this year has gone for me at work with regard to my transition, it’s been easy for me to brush it off with an “Oh, there have been no problems at all! My school’s great!” And indeed, my school is a relatively ideal place for me to be going through this. But even in the most ideal of locations, quotidian challenges arise that keep me on my toes and in a state of perpetual emotional exhaustion. The problem at a school like mine - which is filled with young, mostly white Teach for America corps members and New York Teaching Fellows and fancies itself uber Liberal - is that coworkers are quick to rationalize hurtful ignorances with the excuse of "But I had good intentions! I'm very Liberal and open-minded!"

Two weeks ago a colleague at school brought some students from a seventh grade class to see me. These four students had encountered me in the hallways last year as Ms. K and, even though I’ve never taught them, they have been confused and curious about my transition. My coworker did not discuss this in detail with me beforehand, nor did he ask me if the timing was convenient or appropriate for me.

The four students were very shy and nervous, and this coworker drew some extremely problematic race analogies - which I didn’t even entirely understand - to explain to the students why they should “feel comfortable asking Mr. K anything they want to know!” The students were clearly very uncomfortable with this, so to relieve them of the pressure their teacher was putting on them, I suggested they write down their questions on post-its. They gladly did so, and the first questions they offered I was happy to answer and discuss: “How has your family reacted to you being transgender?” and “Why do you think you are transgender?” These questions pop up frequently, and I’m usually pretty happy to answer them.

However, my coworker then started encouraging them to ask questions that I would never discuss with students, questions like: “Do you still menstruate?” It bewildered and angered me that he would self-authorize – let alone authorize students! – to talk about my body in that way. He was paying no attention to my level of discomfort, and to make matters worse, he made several offensive offhand comments while the students were writing down questions, such as: “So, who are you interested in these days, men or women?”, and “Do gay men hit on you a lot?” When I responded “Sometimes” to the latter question, he laughed and said “Haha, do you just tell them that you don’t have what they’re looking for?” At that point, I was ready to either a) sock him or b) tell him off for his arrogance in presuming to know anything about my body or "what I have." But the students approached me again with more questions, and I had to return to Teacher Mode.

The most infuriating part of the entire interaction was that while he was undermining my identity and treating me like an object for analysis this coworker clearly felt he was being open, affirming, and supportive. He assumed that as someone with “lots of gay friends!,” he was necessarily authorized to ask me probing personal questions and make judgments and share opinions about my body.

I understand that “teachable moments” are unavoidable, and that difficult moments pop up every single day. As a professional, it is inherent to my job to be constantly put on the spot by my students, and I try to rise to the occasion to deal with that. When a student of mine used the phrase “no homo” two weeks ago, I talked to him individually to ask him what he meant by it and why he was using it. When another student asked me the question “Mr. K, who would you rather have as your girlfriend, Alicia Keys or Alissa Milano,” I responded by simply stating “Think about all of the assumptions you’re making about me when you say that.” The student was puzzled, but got quiet and pensive for a few moments.

These situations are regular, and constant, and part of my job to tackle. I have occasionally chosen to come out as queer or trans in moments like that, but ultimately my decisions about what information I share about my body and my personal experience is completely up to me – and I’ve found that in many situations sharing my experience does not necessarily assist me in provoking thoughtfulness and getting my main points across to students. Even just in developmental terms, eleven- and twelve-year-olds process everything through the lens of themselves. Coming out has an important and crucial place in teaching, in my opinion, but it is not inherently necessary to prompt students to think critically about sexuality and gender identity.

So, then, how do I react in a situation in which my body is being put on display as a specimen to be examined and probed, by a well-intentioned colleague who thinks he is affirming my identity? It is very challenging to be in that place, because it was not simply an interaction between myself and a coworker – there were students present, as well. I should probably speak with that coworker individually to explain to him why I felt like he disrespected my boundaries and identity. But I can’t find the energy in me, for some reason. I guess there are limitations to my willingness and ability to educate people about trans-ness, but maybe after spring break is over I’ll muster up whatever willpower I need to discuss it with him face-to-face.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Article: Homophobia damaging lives across Europe-EU study

"From their early years, the derogative words used for gays and lesbians at schools teach them to remain invisible," said the study, published on Tuesday.
Read Homophobia damaging lives across Europe-EU study
31 Mar 2009 - Source: Reuters

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Curious Students.

After the ELA exam my classes have dived into our Book Partnership unit, during which students are paired up homogeneously based on reading level. Each student partnership reads an appropriately-leveled novel, and at the end of each class period I provide what I call "Book Talk" time for partners to discuss their book and any responses, questions, or opinions they may have. One of the primary goals of the unit is to develop students' skills in verbal engagement with texts they are reading.

My encouragement of students' critical engagement with literature appears to be effective, judging from some of the questions I fielded today. One student who is reading a YA novel called "Gender Blender" - the story of a high school boy and girl who end up exchanging bodies for a day - approached my desk to ask "Mr. K, what is gender, again? I thought I knew, but in this book they said it was the same as sex."

I told the student that some people think of gender and sex as interchangeable, which probably explains the book's use of "sex" and "gender." He looked at me, confused, and said "But Mr. K, that's not true for everyone, right? I mean, there are some people who are born boys and become girls, right? I was watching this show called 'Real World: Brooklyn,' and there's a girl on it who used to be a boy... Is that true?" Before I could say anything, two other students who were hovering around my desk to ask me questions chimed in and said "Yeah, it's true! She used to be a boy! I watch that show, too."

(Sidenote: It never ceases to amaze me how my - and my peers' - interpretations of mainstream media representations of LGBTQ people can differ so drastically from my students' impressions. Apparently, what I have found a gimmicky and cheesy move on the part of the Real World to include a "token trans person" has resulted in some important educational moments for some of my students.)

Trying to avoid self-authorizing as a "gender expert," I kept my comments to a minimum in the conversation with this particular student. I just provided affirmation that his confusion was warranted, citing what I called a "wide spectrum" of gender identities that people could have.

This particular student has demonstrated a consistent, pointed interest in trans issues and has raised unprovoked questions about transsexuals on at least three occasions. He is (I think) sometimes teased for "acting gay," wearing sweatervests and borrowing pink highlighters from the girls in his class to decorate his notebook. Without assuming anything about his identity, it is clear that gender and sexual identity are important for him to think about and work through. So, after a few minutes of thought, I decided to come out to him, individually, about my trans identity. As his class was getting ready to leave my room, I pulled him aside and said "You seem interested in this topic, which is great" - to which he smiled and said "Yeah, this stuff is really interesting to me" - and I continued "I want to let you know that I identify as transgender myself. I was born a girl and am now a man. So these issues are very real to me, and to many people I know."

The student looked at me and said "So, that story you told us about when you were in middle school... you were a girl then?" I explained that I don't talk too much about my history with my students because it can become a distraction - not because I am ashamed or worried about teasing. "My students respect me, I think," I said, "so I think that they respect me most if I am myself." The student nodded. He was clearly surprised to hear that I'm trans, but then he smiled shyly and said "Well, there have been rumors that you're, you know, GAY or whatever, but not..." In response to that, I came out as queer to him as well, emphasizing that it is important to me that people, including students, understand that it's nothing to be ashamed of. By that point, the student was clearly saturated with "new information about Mr. K," and he turned to go with a smile, saying "Um, I might write about this, and maybe I will have some questions. Bye, Mr. K!" He seemed to appreciate my straightforwardness, and he certainly took it in stride. If, as I have moments of suspecting, he is beginning to identify himself as LGBTQ in some way, the conversation could have been meaningful to him.

Today was only my second experience coming out as trans to one of my sixth grade students, and the last time the student had directly asked me if I'd had "plastic surgery" and if I "used to be a girl" as he'd heard around the school. It was my first time coming out as queer to any of my current students. Though the conversation was a little nerve-wracking (as I suspect it will be each time I come out as trans to a student), it felt really good to tell a curious student that I identify as queer and trans, and that I am proud of who I am.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Test Prep Time.

During the weeks after winter vacation and leading up to the January 21st statewide English Language Arts exam, a Title I public school – like mine – can feel like a pressure cooker. No Child Left Behind and administrators (more directly) begin to put a tremendous amount of pressure on teachers and students. Administrators who have never before stepped foot in my classroom suddenly storm in demanding to see my data binders (which I happily show them) and rattle off admonishments – “we need these kids to get 3’s and 4’s!” - without asking about anything about that is actually going on in my classroom. It is frustrating and stressful, to say the least. I sympathize with my students, eleven-year-olds who have already learned to get so nervous before The Test that some get nauseous just thinking about it.

To add to these anxieties, three weeks ago I thought my “transgender cover” with my students had been blown. One of my sixth graders came up to my desk at the end of the school day to pose a question that caught me completely off-guard. His demeanor was not awkward; in fact, he appeared ready to inform me of some random fact he’d learned in science class. (That would have been in line with this particular student’s typical personality.) But then what came out of his mouth made me do a double-take: “Mr. K, there’s a rumor going around the school – I swear I didn’t say it - that you used to be a girl and had plastic surgery.”

It took me a minute, certainly, to figure out how to respond. I decided to acknowledge the legitimacy of the "rumor" he'd heard without touching on the “plastic surgery” part, since specific characteristics of my body are irrelevant to the conversation and inappropriate to discuss in school. (Also, how would I possibly explain that SRS is not exactly “plastic surgery,” or the fact that I haven't technically undergone SRS, without venturing into deeply controversial territory?) I responded by saying: “Well, it is true that I used to be ‘Ms. Krywanczyk’ and that I used to identify as a woman. I am transgender. I don’t really talk about it very much. I think I just hope that students can be…” I trailed off, searching for the proper word to conclude my thought. The student actually spoke up and finished my sentence for me, nodding “mature! We can be mature,” and then shouting “bye, Mr. K!” as he vanished out the door to chase after friends who had passed by in the hall. As though nothing had happened. Just found out your teacher is a transsexual? No biggie.

Overall, it was far less painful than I had imagined. The student has not brought it up since, and there has been no apparent “pronoun crisis” in the wake of it like I'd' feared. The ripple effect I anticipated after that conversation has not really happened – at least not to my knowledge. I continue to be slightly on edge, waiting for the day when it comes out in the middle of a lesson or in front of an entire class. But I realize it's possible that more of my students know, and that they are simply more composed and relaxed about bodies, gender, and sexuality than the adults in the building. Actually, the latter possibility seems highly likely.

As I have witnessed over the past month, my students generally think about bodies, sex, sexuality, and gender all the time. The moment the door is opened for them to engage with these realities, incredible - and overwhelming - amounts of curiosity and fascination and angst bubble to the surface. I recently acquired an entire section of “Body Books” to augment the depleted non-fiction section of my classroom library, and the texts themselves have prompted a steady flow of interesting conversations. Last week, one student walked up to my desk wielding “Our Bodies, Our Selves: For Boys” and stated “Mr. K, this book tells me to ask someone about when he went through puberty. So… when did you?” My thoughts in response, in the order that they occurred to me after suddenly having my body put on the spot by a student , were:

1. "Which puberty?"
2. "About five and a half months ago." (When I started physically transitioning to be male.)
3. "Oh, damn! I’m the teacher!"
4. "Maybe you should ask someone else, one of your peers, that question."

The last thought was what actually came out of my mouth, accompanied by a “teacher smile” that I intended to indicate “this is not something you should ever ask a teacher, because we will not indulge you.” The student looked down at his shoelaces and shuffled back to his desk to ask his tablemate.

A few days ago, a different student approached my desk carrying a copy of “The Boys’ Guide To Becoming a Teen.” He held the book out, pointed his finger at a page, and genuinely asked “Mr. K, what does this word mean?” I followed his finger and read: “Masturbation.” After an initial moment of panic, I opted for the route that would encourage the student’s pursuit of knowledge on his own. “Why don’t you look it up in the dictionary,” I responded, “and then decide if you want or need to ask me that question afterwards.” The student nodded, fetched a dictionary, and proceeded to avoid me for the rest of the class.

The “masturbation” scenario was, in many ways, more difficult to handle as a teacher than any inquiries about my personal identity. After all, “what happened to your breasts?” can be easily and quickly deemed inappropriate. It is not so simple when a student has a question about a vocabulary word that is loaded with social significance (and stigma). It is challenging to respond encouragingly in such moments without worrying someone will accuse me of pushing an agenda. Regardless, though, I am glad these texts are in my room and have sparked such thought and interest among my students. It would be infinitely easier when students are left in the dark about “controversial” issues like their own bodies – aren't people who are ignorant always easier to control? - but, clearly, I do not consider that an option.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Exodus Mandate calling to pull Christian kids out of secular schools

Thanks to Pam Spaulding's Pam's House Blend for this one
Fundies call for exodus from the public schools -- again

where she wrote:
An outfit called Exodus Mandate has released an unhinged video, "Call to Dunkirk," that stresses the urgent need to pull "Christian" kids out of the secular schools.
Watch the twisted propaganda video from the religious right, and be prepared to be offended:

The Call to Dunkirk

The video doesn't specifically mention LGBTQ persons and issues in schools, but I had a feeling they did have things to say connected to that so I did a search on Google for the words "homosexual" and "gay" on the website and came up with these:

Whereas, the promotion of homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle in the public schools constitutes a far greater risk to far more children than the “Gay ...
Why Homosexual Activism in Schools Endangers Students - File Format: Microsoft Word
These are frequently initiated through school alliances with influential homosexual pressure groups such as GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education ...
20050509 - SBC Resolution Asks for Investigation of Homosexual ... - File Format: HTML
May 9, 2005 ... Groups like GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and PFLAG ... Radical gender and homosexual advocacy groups influence ...
Front Jan08 (Letter).indd - File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
children from homosexual indoctrination in our government schools. ... GAY “ MARRIAGE” PROMOTION – positive portrayal of “marriage” other than God-ordained, ...
Articles Index - File Format: HTML
2005-May 09 : SBC Resolution Asks for Investigation of Homosexual Influence ... 2002 - Aug 05 : Get Our Kids Out - Dobson says pro-gay school curriculum has ...