Our Son Has a Dream, Too

Photo Credit: Samantha Brandt Photography, LLC

“Our Son Has a Dream, Too” as seen in Huffington Post

My seven-year-old transgender son told me several months ago that he wants to be like Martin when he grows up. You know, the one who had a dream. I told my son I didn’t know he was on a first name basis with the great Dr. King. I asked him to go on and he explained that he heard the speech about being free and equal. And he wants to be like that. To be like Martin. I don’t think my son realizes what he’s getting into with that career path. My son does not yet know the full extent of the discrimination he will face. He is too busy being happy and being a child.

There is no argument that could ever convince me that my son is not who he says he is. I have seen it first-hand. Others have, too. There is no traditionalist view that could justify the suffering and death of so many kids for the sake of “that’s how we’ve always done it.” There is no possible interpretation of our founding forefathers’ intentions that would lead me to believe they wanted state-sponsored discrimination and segregation against our LGBTQ community. Or that our forefathers would ignore the tenants of equality and justice for all, the very basis of our independence.

Some say they don’t understand why we just don’t segregate transgender kids and call it a day. Apparently the lessons learned from our segregationist past and the struggles of our African American community are lost on many people. Separate schools, bathrooms, restaurants, even water fountains – if you want to dehumanize a group of people, there is no better start than segregation.

Some say that my son’s rights aren’t civil rights. That we have no right to compare his battle to The Civil Rights Movement. All my son knows is that when he learned about Dr. King, and what that great man stood for, he wanted to be like him. I want my son to be like him, too.

This isn’t just about bathrooms. This is about the human condition. Our son is a boy. He was born that way, even though his body doesn’t have boy parts. This happens sometimes in nature. It’s not any different than a child being born with a physical limitation. Or with autism. Or with Down Syndrome. Or with extraordinary musical talent. Or with the ability to inspire a nation in the name of justice and equality. It just happens sometimes. It’s life. It just is.

And our story is not unique. Thousands of families have nearly identical experiences to our own. Our experience is, opening your heart and mind to marginalized communities and their challenges will make you a better human being. It will make your kids better human beings. If we just have the courage to stand up for those in need, we can make this world a safer place – a better place – for all.

Legislators have now brought the battle to our doorstep. You can add Michigan to the list of states with bathroom bills. In North Carolina, my son can be prosecuted for using the bathroom with which he identifies. Even though all the evidence points to the contrary, legislators continue to use fear as a weapon against my son and our community. They make it impossible for kids like our son to live in this world. They promote a culture that is divisive and intolerant to marginalized communities.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the backlash is perhaps the wake up call this country needed. Well, we are awake now. And by “we,” I mean the sleeping giants. People like me and my wife, who hadn’t gone public with the fact that our seven-year-old son is transgender. People who have no connection to the LGBTQ community. People who hear the rhetoric and say enough is enough. People who already have too much on their plate, who now raise their voices in support of equality, common sense, compassion, and truth.

Just as in the days of The Civil Rights Movement, the legislators and all those waging war on the LGBTQ community will be proven wrong. History will deal with them harshly. But the damage they cause in the interim is long lasting, and can be fatal for many in our community. People who cannot fathom living in a world that treats them as subhuman. And many of them kids. It is for them we fight. We cannot wait. I will not wait.

I was not born an advocate and I am not worthy to be called by that name. But I have seen the truth. I cannot unsee it. I have learned what it means to be marginalized through my son’s eyes. I cannot unlearn it. I cannot be silent. I will not be silent.

My voice joins the thousands – the millions – of sleeping giants who are now awake. And the despair I had just a short time ago is being replaced. By confidence. Not just hope, but confidence. I am now certain America will become what it is capable of becoming. The light. The beacon that we claim to be, when we preach to the world about liberty and fairness. The fire that has inspired so many to give their lives in the pursuit of the American dream.

Our son has a dream, too. A dream that I am now certain will become reality. A dream that will not meet its end on the legislative floors of state houses. A dream that will not be crushed by those selling fear. My son’s dream will live because it is shared by all those who have been oppressed since the beginning of time. It is shared by those beautiful souls who were lost in Orlando. It is shared by those who have been marginalized, by birth and then by society. It is shared by those who have empathy in their hearts. It is shared by those who understand the nature and value of diversity and how we are all different in so many ways. And yet the same.

We are a nation grieving. Again. Orlando is suffering. Our nation is suffering. Our hearts are breaking. But we will remember those beautiful souls. We will honor them. And we will make sure their dreams of a better world come true.

We can all help. When we unite and stand up for equality and justice in our towns and in our states, we give life to the dream. But we cannot wait. I will not wait. I ask that you join me. #WeAreOrlando

The Simple, Self-Evident Truths of Transgender Kids, Equality, and Title IX

Let Us Challenge Traditions Rooted in Biases and Irrational Fears

Treat others as you want to be treated. Such a simple, universal rule. The golden rule. So simple we teach it to our youngest children as soon as they reach an age when they antagonize their siblings. So universal that it pervades religious doctrine and kindergarten classrooms alike. A self-evident truth if there ever was one.

Here’s another one, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Our country’s founders created a nation on the basis of this fundamental truth. Simple. Universal. Self-evident.

The great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the strange paradoxes of slavery and segregation in a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal.

A country that allowed irrational fears and biases to shape our society for over a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation. A country that allowed Jim Crow laws in our states to affect the worldview of generations of Americans, feeding inherent biases that subsist even now. A country with good intentions, but that paved the way for segregation and institutionalized discrimination of an entire race of people — a race that still feels the effects to this day.

If there’s one thing we should learn from this, it’s that we must confront these paradoxes wherever they exist.

This struggle hits home for our family. Our eight-year-old son is transgender and faces discrimination that affects his life now and into the future. He is up against a culture that condemns him for the way he was born and legislation that makes living authentically nearly impossible.

The LGBTQ community has few protections against discrimination and can be denied employment, housing, and health care. What rights do exist are challenged at every turn. Our states are inundated with bathroom and religious liberty legislation that would legalize discrimination against millions of LGBTQ people, millions of kids. Just for being born different.

One of the few pieces of supportive guidance for transgender kids is now in danger. In May of 2016 the Departments of Education and Justice issued federal guidance on Title IX. Their interpretation recognized the truth about gender identity and provided students with protection against discrimination, including safe access to the facilities with which students identify. It has been a lifeline for transgender kids.

Later in 2016, however, a preliminary injunction was issued. As it heads to court, the Department of Justice has recently withdrawn its support for a partial stay on the injunction. This sends a message that our government is not heading down the path of equality for our transgender and gender non-conforming kids.

Title IX is much more than a bathroom issue, as Laverne Cox beautifully described Gavin Grimm’s historic case coming before the Supreme Court. It is about the ability of transgender kids to exist in our schools and public places. It is about creating an environment where transgender kids are not segregated. It is about creating a culture that does not demonize them for being born a certain way – a culture that does not treat them as an abomination. It is about survival.

What we truly need are civil rights for the entire LGBTQ community. The rights that everyone else in our country enjoys. Fair, equal rights. But until we have equality for all, Title IX is all our kids have.

Thankfully, many people are now learning that both gender and sexual orientation are on a spectrum, like so many other things in life. We know that gender identity manifests as early as two years old. And we have on-going longitudinal studies that support the experiences of what millions of transgender people and their families already know.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and every other major medical and mental health organization recognize that affirming a child’s gender identity is critical to their well being. Pediatricians also recognize that legislation like bathroom bills put our kids at great risk – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In spite of the evidence and the real experiences of our families, some still insist on a traditional binary definition of gender. Some cannot accept that kids experience gender dysphoria at an early age and that it is not a choice.

When we challenge traditional views, some derisively call this pushing an agenda. Dr. King faced this, as do African Americans today. If you call ‘equality for all’ an agenda, then yes, we are pushing it. Equality should not be a partisan issue. It is too fundamental to our country and to our humanity.

Some accuse the LGBTQ community of seeking special rights. As if non-discrimination and human rights are special treatment. Like a tax break.

I can’t wait to explain this to my son. Congratulations kid, you’ve won some special treatment. Looks like you might get to use the bathroom you identify with. Knock yourself out. Oh, by the way, when you get older you can still get fired or denied housing or healthcare just because of the way you were born. Yes, you’ve got those special rights. That special treatment.

But it does not have to be this way. For many of us, our worldview has been shaped by interpretations of religious doctrine, long-held biases, and fears built on misconceptions and misinformation.

Let us challenge these interpretations and traditions rooted in biases and irrational fears. Let us adjust our worldview when we grow and learn the truth. Let us treat others as we want to be treated and sacrifice for equality and equity. Let us, in the words of Dr. King, ”develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” I believe we have a moral obligation to do so.

It is not the easiest path, it is the hardest. To do what is difficult, in spite of the pain. To do what is right, in spite of the cost. But if we take this path — if we teach our kids these simple, self-evident truths — we will make this world a better, safer place for all.

#StandWithGavin

Embrace.Today

Jacq Kai’s Story

Photo Credit: Samantha Brandt Photography, LLC

Hello, world. I’m the Dad of a transgender kid. I’m hoping our story will open some hearts and minds, much as ours were opened by our son. My son’s picture is in a presentation given to the Michigan State Board of Education for this proposal: “Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students.” His name is Jacq Kai, but he prefers Kai. We felt it was critical to give a face and a name to this issue as many people are openly condemning us when they have never talked to or met a transgender child. Though if Kai has his way, he’ll be playing quarterback at Michigan. You’ll certainly get to know him then. This is our story.

Our family has not been stealth about our transgender journey. But we also have not been outspoken in the media until now, because of the inherent danger to transgender kids and the response you see in many communities. The risks, however, are completely outweighed by the urgency we feel in explaining this issue and helping kids who have no voice.

I’m an engineer and my wife is a teacher. Looking back five years ago, our life was quite ordinary – until our daughter Jacqueline, at around two years old, started insisting she was a boy. I can’t do it justice here to emphasize how extremely painful and nearly unbearable life became for her. The forcefulness and consistency of her appeals led us to seek expert advice from multiple doctors and therapists. It was clear. Jacqueline was a boy.

We decided to ‘science the heck out of it’ and dove into learning everything we could. There is an excellent longitudinal study led by Dr. Kristina Olson at the University of Washington that shows transgender kids are not making this up. There is also a new study in the February issue of the Journal of Pediatrics showing that supporting transgender kids in their identity has a huge positive impact on their mental health. It may ultimately have an impact on the 40+% of transgender people that attempt suicide. That would be good.

When it came time for Kindergarten, our principal, Craig McCalla of Cornerstone Elementary in Dexter, had no previous experience with transgender issues. But he assured us his job was to create a safe and supportive learning environment for every child. Every. Child. Just like he helps kids with autism, physical disabilities, or your child when they fall behind in reading. He is our hero. The problem is not everyone has a Craig McCalla.

The reason I’m telling you this is that it was the impetus for trying to provide the best information to people who are making decisions on our kids’ behalf. There is very little information to help educators address the practical issues they face on a daily basis, including compliance with Title IX. Transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX, which includes the right to use restrooms matching their gender identity. Educators, however, are requesting guidance on compliance as well as information on other LGBTQ issues.

Attempts are still being made to pass discriminatory Anti-LGBTQ legislation that prevents transgender people from using the restrooms with which they identify. In 200 cities and 17 states where transgender rights to restrooms are protected, however, there is no evidence that sexual predators have exploited equal rights laws to commit crimes.

When you create a safer environment for LGBTQ kids, you create a culture of respect, tolerance, safety and inclusiveness for all kids. The proposed guidance is based on studies and best practices from other schools and communities that have enacted similar guidance with successful results. It’s not perfect and I’m sure it will evolve. But it’s a start.

If you have data or a better way to address an issue, then by all means share it. That’s what this is all about. It’s not policy – more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules. Let’s have informed dialogue.

For example, issues have been raised about student privacy. The ACLU advises schools that they have a legal obligation to protect the privacy of students related to their sexual orientation and gender identity. We know the very best thing for LGBTQ students is for them to have loving, supportive families, and the guidance calls for meaningful family engagement to help make this happen.

I was awakened to the life and death struggle of these kids and the LGBTQ community. It inspired me to take an active role in making this world a better place – not just for transgender kids – for all kids. I ask that you join me. The proposed statement provides needed guidance to schools. And it will save lives.

Bio: Peter Tchoryk and his wife Sarah live in Dexter, MI, have three children and two grandchildren; Peter is the CEO of Michigan Aerospace Corporation and Springmatter, and Sarah is a 5th grade teacher.

Calling All Real Superheroes

2016-07-22-23-39-30-closeup

“Calling All Real Superheroes” as seen in Huffington Post

We are enamored with superheroes in our country. It’s a part of our culture and I think captures our inherent desire to overcome adversity and help others. To fight for good. The problem is we actually need real ones today. And lots of them.

I’m encouraging my kids and grandkids to be their own superhero. I want them to know that each one of them is strong and each one of them can make this world a better place. This is an especially important message to kids who are marginalized in some way, and in our case, our transgender son.

But it is my message to everyone. This isn’t the time to be afraid. This isn’t the time to back away and let others fight the fight. It’s time for all of us, the sleeping giants, to realize we have a greater mission in this world. Get your mask. Get your cape, if you’re so inclined. It’s time to enter the fray.

So what kind of superheroes do we need? Much of the suffering and violence in the world today is caused by those who cling to a world-view that is narrow and unbending and unaccepting of any differences. A world-view that cultivates intolerance. A world-view that sanctions discrimination and denies rights to those who are different. I think this is a good place to start for our superheroes.

If there is one thing our country should agree on, it is embracing differences. If there is one thing our country should get right, it is equality and justice for all. And yet, while we preach against the oppressive forces in our world, many of our own citizens and leaders seem unable to accept differences right here in our own country. People who should know better, but continue to deny rights to those who deserve them. First and foremost, our superheroes should be a voice for equality and stand up for the underdogs.

I’d venture that most people would already say they stand up for the underdogs in this world. And I’ll bet every parent has talked to their kids about standing up to bullies. Yet many of these same people fail to support those who need it most. The marginalized communities. People of different races, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and the most persecuted and least understood, our transgender and LGBQ communities.

Ironically, I’ll bet many of those same people who vehemently oppose equality for marginalized groups love taking their kids to see superhero movies. They love watching the defenders of equality and justice stand up for the oppressed. If only people realized they have an opportunity, in real life, to be a superhero to a kid in need. Especially for transgender and gender non-conforming kids, who see a world of adults condemning them just for being who they are.

Gender identity seems particularly hard for some to grasp. I know there are some who will never get it. I guess that’s life. And that’s why we will always need superheroes. But I believe many more will open their hearts and minds. For some, all it will take is getting to know a transgender child and their family. It’s why we tell our story. For some, it will require a deeper understanding of the nature and science of gender identity. It’s why we strive for education.

Our family, among many others, has been working with Michigan’s State Board of Education to provide basic guidelines to our educators so they can help create a safer, more inclusive environment for LGBTQ kids. The guidance is now being revised after multiple public forums and thousands of on-line comments were considered. The updated version will be released and reviewed later this summer.

The recommended guidance, however, has led to a firestorm of resistance. Much of the tempest has been directed at transgender students, their families, and the people standing up for us. Some of it comes from people who believe the predator myth, though it has been thoroughly debunked. Some of it comes from religious extremists, who condemn anyone who believes differently. And some of it comes from the legislators. It led to two bathroom bills being introduced in Michigan, part of the massive wildfire of legislation spreading across the country by those who seek to deny civil rights for the LGBTQ community.

And that was just the beginning. Along with ten other states, Michigan’s Attorney General now seeks to overturn federal guidelines for schools on protecting the rights of transgender students. Specifically, their lawsuit challenges the inclusion of gender identity under Titles VII and IX, despite the strong justification for it. The guidance offered by the Federal Government is essential for the health and safety of these kids. They are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. They have no protection against discrimination. And they are at the highest risk for harassment, bullying, assault, and suicide.

Not everyone is giving in to the fear, however, as a dozen states have now filed a counterpoint brief showing why these protections are strongly in the public’s interest. Thankfully, there are people who recognize we have an obligation to provide rights for all our citizens.

The truth is we have an obligation to humanity. And when we see inequality and injustices being committed against our fellow human beings, it is our duty to act. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.”

Our military has recently taken sides, ending the ban on transgender people being able to serve openly. They realized our transgender soldiers make our military stronger. They make our country stronger. The contrast between the U.S. military’s position on transgender service and those opposing transgender rights is stark. Our military personnel put themselves in harm’s way for everyone’s sake. That makes them heroes. And by standing up for the most vulnerable, our military personnel are superheroes in my eyes. They have taken a bold stand, joining the Department of Education, Department of Justice, and our President. I am grateful.

Our family is also fortunate to have superheroes in our everyday lives. People who know they will face criticism, yet advocate for the transgender kids in our schools. People like our elementary school principal, Craig McCalla, and the President of Michigan’s State Board of Education, John Austin. Leaders who take a stand for all kids, including the most vulnerable. The classmates and friends of my son who know he is transgender and treat him just like any other boy. My son’s sisters and the siblings of many other transgender kids, who are often their fiercest allies. And of course the strongest of all, our LGBTQ and other marginalized kids, who not only deal with their internal struggles, but face a society that opposes them just for being who they are. It comes down to courage. And they have it.

I’m calling for people to summon their courage and not give in to divisiveness, hate, and fear. I’m calling for people from all walks of life, the sleeping giants, to awaken and become a superhero for a kid in need. Hold our leaders accountable to support the rights of all our citizens, including LGBTQ and all those who are marginalized. Some will do the right thing. Make your voice heard against those who try to deny equality. Embrace all differences, whether of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and all those who do not fit within a neatly labeled box. Show the world we are not hypocrites when it comes to equality and justice for all. Lead by example and we will make this great country of ours even greater. We will make the world a better place for all kids.

I’m calling all real superheroes.

Oh, and if you must have a cape, make sure it’s quick release. Remember The Incredibles.

Human Rights Campaign 2017 Convention Parents Panel

Sarah McBride with Sarah Sult TchorykPeter TchorykRon JR Ford, and DeShanna U Neal

One of my favorite parts of my job is working with the exceptional parents on HRC’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council. This morning I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion with four of our parents – Pete and Sarah from Michigan, JR from DC, and DeShanna from the greatest state in the union – at our annual Equality Convention. These are some fierce mama and papa bears and we’re lucky to have them on the front lines.

#ProtectTransKids: Mother Delivers Tearful Plea for Transgende…

Burying a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. For DeShanna Neal – a mother of a Black transgender daughter – that fear is all too present. DeShanna worries that her daughter Trinity won’t make it to adulthood, but she is hopeful that one day she’ll be treated just like every American.

Posted by Human Rights Campaign on Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Video: Human Rights Campaign 2017 Equality Convention Parents Panel

Watch parents of transgender children talk about love for their children and the impact that anti-Transgender legislation has on them and their children.

Posted by Meghan Stabler on Saturday, March 11, 2017