Where do we go from here?

[Photo credit: Bob Fitch photography archive, © Stanford University Libraries]

What every Black American already knows and what we can only hope people are learning from Jan 6th, 2021, is that racial inequities and injustices are still at the root of the divisions that threaten to tear our country apart. The violent images of white nationalists and Neo-Nazis only tell part of the story. We know factions still glorify the 400+ years of slavery and segregation that haunt our nation’s past. But what was finally exposed to the world is a much graver threat.

We have seen the sitting President and GOP lawmakers attempt to overturn the election based on allegations that were rejected by courts, election officials, and the Electoral College. When court actions and other interventions failed, we watched as the sitting President and GOP lawmakers incited insurrection, with some fighting alongside those white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. We know lawmakers and officials from both parties were targeted, including the sitting Vice President.

Events over the past year indicate a large percentage of White Americans do not understand or believe the severity of systemic inequities and injustices that people of color and marginalized communities face today. They do not see the lasting effects of discrimination in employment, justice, education, housing, health care, and the environment, compounded over hundreds of years. They do not have to navigate the lingering Jim Crow and Jim Crow 2.0 legislation at the state and local levels and the rolling back of legislation at the federal level. We are like two separate countries in our worldviews and that division has been intentionally exploited.

The unrestrained violence that Capitol rioters were directing toward lawmakers is what many Black Americans face in their daily lives. It is dehumanization that allowed people to rationalize slavery, genocide, and segregation and that culture persists today. Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, immigrants and their children, and other minorities are often dehumanized in our culture through legislation, policies, and rhetoric. The insurrection of Jan 6th and the attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power through violent means is unprecedented, but the culture that gave rise to that event is not new. Jan 6th simply exposed it for the world to see.

So where do we go from here?

The sitting President has been impeached for the second time, rioters are being arrested, and there are more investigations to come. All must be held accountable. Accountability is more than just walking away – it means taking responsibility. We can’t know someone’s heart, but we know if they admit their mistakes and we know if they take actions to undo the damage and ensure it doesn’t happen again. I am waiting for accountability from those who failed to condemn or actively condoned the debunked conspiracy theories, documented lies, and calls for violence. They are culpable for the attacks on our constitution and democratic process and for perpetuating this culture of dehumanization.

With accountability comes healing and we can move forward again to address the root causes of racism and discrimination. We can begin to create a culture of inclusivity, free from dehumanization.

We have been here before as a nation and we know our path forward will not be easy. But on this day, we rededicate ourselves to the hard work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those who are part of the African American Freedom Struggle, past and present. We recognize today’s Black Lives Matter movement and the young people across the country and the world who are leading the way in grass roots activism. We commit ourselves to learning from young people as well as those who came before us. And we honor those we lost along the way by doing this work.

The events of Jan 6th and throughout 2020 underscore why Dr. King’s unwavering commitment to Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence is something we need to embrace and teach to every generation. We will continue to support the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, The King Center, Black Lives Matter, the Gandhi-King Global Initiative, and other organizations dedicated to ensuring the education of every generation.

There are universal truths that can guide us as individuals, organizations, nations, and as a human species. Among these are equality, equity, justice, and forgiveness. These truths help guide where we go from here. We will continue to follow a path blazed by the African American Freedom movement and Dr. King, inspired by Gandhi, and now reborn through the next generation of grass-roots activists.

Together, we will strive to build the interconnected and inclusive World House and Beloved Community King envisioned.  

About the author: Peter Tchoryk is an engineer and a dad who discovered he had a lot to learn from his kids. He is committed to making this world safer for all those who are persecuted for trying to live authentically. To learn more, check in with us at ScientificRebels.com, listen to our Podcast, or contact the author directly.

Vote 2020

I hate to admit this, but before I had a transgender kid I didn’t look at the world the same way. Let’s just say I was not as thoughtful about how I voted…and that’s putting it kindly. It’s why I feel an obligation to reach out to people who don’t get it yet. It would be pretty damn hypocritical of me if I didn’t.

Things look so clear to me today, but I know it’s not because of any inherent wisdom. In my case, it took seeing the world through the eyes of a transgender kid. It was a blessing, a gift.

It showed me why we have to take a stand when equality and justice are at stake. It showed me why sometimes we have to march, to protest, for rights. It showed me why we have to be there for any of our brothers and sisters who are seeing their rights and humanity denied.

I know there are many moments in history where the fate of the world hangs in the balance. This is one of them. You know where I stand. And you know why.

If you’re one of the few people in our country who hasn’t made up their mind and who hasn’t voted yet, I simply ask this. Be thoughtful about your choice. Look at who will bring us together and not divide us. Look at who treats others with respect and with dignity. You don’t have to look very far.

#vote2020 #equality #blacklivesmatter #BidenHarris2020

The Power of Storytelling: “Jazz and Friends” Readings in Michigan

Everyone has a story. Each one is valuable and each one is unique. Many people know Jazz Jennings by now, but if you don’t, I hope you take this chance to learn about her remarkable life. Her story has empowered millions of children and adults alike.

Jazz is a young transgender woman who has become a leader for the LGBTQ community. Along with co-author Jessica Herthel, Jazz wrote a children’s book about her experiences. I Am Jazz is a way for young people to not only learn about a trans child’s life, but to discuss the value of all differences.

Recently, a video of people in our county reading I Am Jazz was shown in several schools and communities in Southeast Michigan. The video included two of our own kids, Sydney and Jacq Kai, ages 12 and 10. One district in particular recognized that its students would benefit from learning more about its transgender and gender-diverse population and arranged to show the video in its elementary schools. The readings generated opposition by some parents, including a petition.

There is still much confusion about what it means to be transgender. The purpose of Jazz’s children’s book and the readings is to share one transgender child’s experience and hopefully open some hearts and minds. I used those very words when our family went public with the story of our transgender son almost three years ago in support of the Michigan State Board of Education Guidance for LGBTQ students.

Any time we do these readings, we expect questions – and some tension. Tension ensues whenever we challenge the status quo. And it’s a reflection of the level of understanding we have as a society.

I wish we were at a point in our society that we didn’t need to share our story publicly. But we aren’t there yet. Many people are simply not aware of all the work by medical, mental health, social work, and educational professionals, and the best practices that are in place for our transgender kids. And of course, it’s difficult to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and really understand their experiences – that’s true for all of us.

If we don’t share our stories, our children’s experiences and struggles are subject to misinterpretation. Misinterpretation can lead to fear or anger, and sometimes violence. Every year we lose too many people to hate crimes, especially transgender people of color. And every year we have too many children who are forced to conceal who they are and succumb to depression and other mental health problems.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The most comprehensive longitudinal study conducted to date shows that children who are supported in their gender identity have mental health outcomes similar to the rest of the population.

The opposite is also true. Kids who are not supported have a very high risk of depression, self-harm, and suicide, because they cannot live in a world that doesn’t accept them – or a world that actively tries to erase them. The more our kids are forced to hide who they are, the more dehumanizing the effects will be.

As human beings, one of the simplest and most effective things we can do to understand one another is to tell our stories. While I’ve come to expect the tension – and even embrace it – some of the reactions can still be discouraging. This reading of a children’s book, a child’s experience, was denounced as a liberalist agenda and a threat to some people’s faith. It was called scientifically inaccurate and an unnecessary waste of school time. And worse.

Ironically, reading stories about other children’s experiences is one of the best uses of our school’s time. If we expect kids to learn and work together, they should know something about each other.

Ruby Bridges-Hall said, “As a child, I never quite understood the power of a story until I found myself at the center of one that catalyzed and emboldened a movement.  Today it is so important that our children learn to believe in the power of their stories and know what a force for change they can be.”

The value of reading about African American children and the Civil Rights Movement is immeasurable, as are stories about Native American children and children of different faiths and cultures. Stories that give a glimpse into the lives of children with physical, learning, and mental health challenges, or kids on the autism spectrum. Stories about kids growing up in single parent homes or who are adopted. Stories about people in the majority and people in the minority. And stories about LGBTQ families.

When kids graduate, they will discover the majority of companies are strong advocates for the rights of our transgender and gender-diverse population. One has only to look at the number of companies publicly supporting these rights and at their policies of diversity, equity, and inclusion. If our schools want to prepare kids for the real world, they better start educating them about gender identity now.

Our son’s experience is similar to that of Jazz. Gender identity is of course completely separate from sexual orientation, and it forms over time, generally from age two to five. We learned it is not uncommon for transgender kids to show gender dysphoria during that time. This has been shown by a University of Washington study and it is what our family and many others have experienced first-hand. Our son was assigned female at birth but began recognizing his assigned gender didn’t match his identity when he was around two.

Gender dysphoria itself involves a comprehensive diagnosis. Our family obtained the opinion of medical and mental health experts. Gender dysphoria is an intense and typically consistent, insistent, and persistent discord between a child’s assigned gender and their internal identity. Gender dysphoria is not the same as gender nonconformity. And it is not the same as your child pretending to be a dog, dinosaur, or pirate.

It’s hard to put into words how despondent our son was even at a young age because of this dysphoria. I can tell you it was a matter of life and death. After we affirmed his identity, it was like a light switch. He went from despair to a happy kid who couldn’t wait to go to school.

Jacq Kai entered kindergarten as a boy. We are fortunate. His principal Craig McCalla didn’t have any experience with transgender kids, but that didn’t stop him from providing a safe and supportive environment from day one.

Our decision to affirm our son’s identity was made to keep him alive. I’d rather have a child who is alive and happy, than a child who takes their own life because we thought they would grow out of it. We don’t understand every aspect of gender identity and gender dysphoria, but we have enough evidence to know what works best to keep these kids alive and thriving.

Being transgender doesn’t define my son, but it is a part of who he is. He embraces it. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Frankly, he’s much more likely to tell you about his other interests, like his love for football and wrestling and science. He talks often about being a professor and an inventor – and also wants to be a lineman. That’s one thing that has changed. He had his sights set on quarterback for a while.

But what makes our son transgender has nothing to do with his love for football and wrestling or other likes and dislikes. My son’s identity comes from an internal sense of who he is.

Last year, Jacq Kai shared his story with his 5th grade class. Just as he’s been doing since the 2nd grade. He wants people to know and to understand what it means to be transgender. The amazing and perhaps not so surprising result is that kids get it. They have questions, but then think about their own differences and how they would like to be treated. From our experiences and those of educators around the country, kids can be taught about gender identity in an age-appropriate way in elementary school.

Let’s be clear. I Am Jazz is not a textbook and it is not intended to show the broad spectrum of gender experiences nor the science behind it. It is a children’s book that provides a powerful teaching moment to give classmates a glimpse of one transgender child’s experiences. Sharing experiences is a small but important first step. Training and resources are also available for educators to provide more in-depth information and support.

Every major professional organization representing pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and educators recognizes how critical this support is to the well-being of transgender and gender-diverse children. For best practices on caring for transgender and gender-diverse children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their policy and is partnering with other organizations to provide practitioners and parents with valuable resources. It is this vast body of evidence that we follow, because it gives our transgender and gender-diverse kids the best chance to survive and thrive in this world.

In spite of the opposition to the readings, I am encouraged. In fact, most of the commentary has inadvertently proven exactly why these readings are so essential. The next National “Jazz and Friends” School and Community Reading Day is February 28, 2019. We have the opportunity for on-going and meaningful discussions and more stories about diverse experiences across the spectrum.

I am humbled by the many brave educators, parents, and allies who have stood up for our transgender and gender-diverse kids. It seems our educational system is always on the front lines for kids in the margins. When we create safe and supportive learning environments for the most vulnerable, every child benefits. My kids read about Ruby Bridges and other young pioneers in the Civil Rights movement. They read about kids from all walks of life. And I think it makes them better humans. This is the power of storytelling.

About the author: Peter Tchoryk is an engineer and a dad who discovered he had a lot to learn from his kids. He is committed to making this world safer for all those who are persecuted for trying to live authentically. To learn more, check in with us at ScientificRebels.com, listen to our Podcast, or contact the author directly.

Michigan Parents Call for Love, Support, and Understanding for Transgender Youth

“The greatest thing any parent can do for their kids is to show them they are loved for who they are and for being their authentic selves,” said Peter Tchoryk, who lives in the small town of Dexter, Michigan with his wife. Peter and Sarah have three children, including a son who is transgender.

Peter and Sarah know what it’s like to watch their child grapple with discrimination – and through their work organizing with transgender advocacy groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality, they’ve seen the importance of speaking out and pushing back against discrimination.

“We want our transgender youth and families to know that they are not alone and many people are actively working with a fierce urgency to create safe and supportive schools,” Peter said. “It will get better. There are local and national resources to help families with school and community interactions, from training and advocacy to legal help.”

With back-to-school season in full swing, Peter and Sarah want to underline that despite the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind guidance on how public schools can best support transgender students, the root policy – Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – still exists and provides significant protections for transgender students.

“People need to know that many schools, ours included, successfully provide for the safety and privacy of every child – whether that child is transgender or cisgender, part of the majority or a minority,” Peter and Sarah said. “Our schools provide training to staff on diversity and inclusivity and educate students on differences, including transgender differences. It’s proven and it works.”

While it’s been challenging to see anti-transgender perspectives demonstrated so publicly in the past year, from lawmakers to anti-transgender activists to the President of the United States, Peter knows that as we confront prejudice, we also change minds.

“The positive side of visibility and the national conversation is that many people in our nation are learning the truth of what it means to be transgender or gender expansive,” he said. “We’ve reached a point in our family that anti-transgender sentiment only strengthens our resolve to tell our story, educate, and stand up for the rights of the transgender community.”

About This Story Collection
People across the country are coming together to share their stories and support transgender youth as they head back to school. Read several stories below of parents, children, professionals, and more providing insight into what it’s like to head back to school as a transgender student. Read the entire article by Freedom for ALL Americans.

How to Ensure a Safe School Year for Michigan’s Transgender Kids

This week, our two youngest children boarded the bus for the first day of school. My husband, Pete, and I waved good-bye through the school bus window, and hoped that this school year will be as good as the last. That their school will continue to be a safe place where they feel comfortable being their authentic selves.

As a teacher myself for more than 20 years, I know these are the hopes of most parents. Our desires as parents and our children’s essential needs are universally felt despite the diversity of our families and our children. That is why I am so confused and heartbroken by the controversy surrounding transgender children. My son Jacq is transgender; assigned female at birth, but asserting insistently, consistently and persistently that he was a boy as soon as he could speak. After educating ourselves as parents through reading and visits with mental health professionals, Jacq socially transitioned to live as a boy at age 4.

More: 10 things you need to know about the new school year in Michigan
More: Michigan’s transgender community faces poverty, bias, study shows

The August before Jacq began kindergarten, Pete and I met with our school’s principal, Craig McCalla, whose life’s work is creating a school environment where all students feel safe.  McCalla worked with us to ensure that Jacq’s essential needs would be met, so he could focus on learning and developing lasting friendships. With such caring and inclusive educators, it’s no surprise Jacq loves school and is thriving academically and socially.

Unfortunately, not all transgender kids have quiet heroes disguised as principals leading their schools — a heartbreaking 82% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school, and with good reason.  Michigan’s LGBT students are surrounded by homophobic language and transgender slurs on a daily basis, often from the very teachers charged with educating them. Nearly all transgender youth have been verbally harassed at school, over half have been physically harassed (pushed or shoved), and 26% have been physically assaulted (punch, kicked, or harmed with a weapon).

With this painful reality, it is no surprise that transgender students are more likely to miss school, be less academically successful and have lower academic aspirations than their peers. Students whose main concern is maintaining their safety while at school simply cannot focus on learning.  Safety is a prerequisite for learning.

The daunting challenges of school, often coupled with lack of parental and/or community support can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm and all too frequently, suicide.

The realities for transgender students may seem bleak, but they don’t have to be.

 Research shows enacting practices like those outlined in the Michigan State Board’s Guidelines for Safe and Supportive Learning Environment for LGBQT Students can reduce incidences of bullying and harassment, allowing all students to thrive. These practices include anti-bullying policies which specifically name sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.  They include enacting policies that allow students to use bathrooms and facilities that match their gender identity. Best practice also encourages the creation of affirming student clubs like Gay Straight Alliances.  Another integral component in creating safe and affirming schools is providing professional development for educators on creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students.

And guess what?  These inclusive policies not only benefit students who identify as LGBTQ, they have been shown to reduce bullying for all students. When parents and educators prioritize the value of diversity, our children and our students follow our lead.  As we prepare for another school year, we must remember that the need to be valued for what makes each individual unique is a universal need our children share. Our differences are the common thread that unites us and collectively make us stronger.

Sarah Tchoryk is an elementary school instructional coach. She lives in Dexter with her husband, Pete, and their children. 

Small Towns Making a Big Stand

Post also found on Medium.com and HRC.org

Terri and Jaimie are moms who live in Grass Lake, MI. When you live in a town as small as Grass Lake, everybody knows your name. Especially when you’re as active in the community as Terri and Jaimie are. It’s what makes towns like Grass Lake special. It’s what makes towns like Grass Lake the kind of place you’d want to raise a family.

Grass Lake sits in between two somewhat larger cities, Jackson and Ann Arbor. In some ways, Grass Lake is probably representative of most rural areas in the country. Not a lot of diversity in terms of race and ethnicity. But it’s more diverse than anyone thought. Terri and Jaimie are both moms to young transgender kids.

What makes Grass Lake not so typical is that the School Board recently decided to allow transgender children to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity. And they made it clear, posting the policy on their website.

At the Grass Lake Community School Board meeting on Monday, over 100 people were present to make their voices heard. I attended the meeting, along with about 75 others in support of the school board’s decision. We heard testimony from parents who love their children, on both sides of the issue.

What always strikes me about these meetings is how passionate the community is – and how are ultimate goals are the same. We all want our children to grow up in a world where they can learn and live peacefully and productively. That is a starting point for collaboration.

What also strikes me is the level of uncertainty some people have over what will happen if schools are inclusive toward transgender kids and the larger LGBTQ community. We don’t have to guess what will happen. We have evidence from years of successful practice and the experience of school systems, educators, medical and health providers, social workers, and of course families. In fact, when you create a safe, welcoming environment for LGBTQ children, you make the school safer and more welcoming for every child.

Allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms matching their identity will not make bathrooms unsafe for others – the fears are simply unfounded. There is much evidence debunking these bathroom myths.

People don’t often stop to realize that transgender people, transgender kids have been around as long as everyone else – they have just been forced to keep hidden. They have been using the bathrooms, facilities, and public spaces just like you and me. Many schools across the nation are already complying with Title IX – transgender children have been using bathrooms matching their identify for years. This includes Michigan schools.

And there has been no surge in assaults in the over 200 cities and 19 states (plus DC) that have ordinances allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms matching their identity. I can tell you where there has been a surge in crime, and that is against the transgender community, especially transgender people of color.

In spite of the evidence, the debunking of irrational fears, and the real experiences of millions of people, some still insist on denying basic human rights — bathroom rights included — to the transgender community. What is more worrisome is the continued dehumanization of our transgender community at the highest levels of government, federal and state. The resulting fear and uncertainty can cause otherwise caring people to ignore the evidence and circle the wagons around their own children.

This is what makes our public schools unique – and so valuable. Their mission is to ensure every single child, even those living on the margins, have a safe and supportive learning environment. Separate bathrooms and segregating transgender kids does not provide them with a safe or supportive environment – it does just the opposite. It endangers them and it dehumanizes them, just like it did with our African American community. Just like it did with anyone who lives on the margin. And schools across the country have successfully managed privacy for all students while allowing transgender children to use the bathrooms and facilities that match their gender identity. But it does underscore the need for guidance and education on these topics, which is what we’re all about.

Gender identity 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 show transgender kids are not making this up. There are results in the Journal of Pediatrics showing that supporting transgender kids in their identity lowers their risk of mental health problems to the same levels as the rest of the population. It may ultimately have an impact on the 40+% of the transgender community that attempt suicide.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and every 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.

Allowing transgender kids to live authentically will not only make a better, safer world for them, it will make a better, safer world for all kids. It will not only make the world safer in terms of physical threats, but mentally and emotionally as well. And when we educate kids on the truth of transgender and gender expansive kids, every child will benefit, because every child has differences and needs to know they are valued. This is how we make a better world.

And when we consider the goals of our educational system to prepare kids for life and for meaningful, productive careers, think about this:  the majority of companies in our country also recognize the rights of transgender people to use the bathrooms and facilities that match their identity. Diversity powers innovation, enlightenment, and groundbreaking discoveries. It’s one reason why companies signed on to a Supreme Court “friend of the court” brief supporting transgender student Gavin Grimm and against the “bathroom bill” in Texas.

As we approach the start of another school year, schools across the country are grappling with transgender policy. The Department of Justice, Department of Education and the current administration have made the situation much more dangerous for transgender youth and the entire LGBTQ community with its recent rescission of school guidance and rejection of supportive policies for transgender soldiers and their families serving in our military. The lack of guidance has also made it more difficult for school systems trying to be inclusive toward the LGBTQ community.

The current leadership in the State of Michigan has not stood up for equality of all its citizens, opposing basic human rights for the LGBTQ community at every turn. But at the request of educators and parents, the Michigan State Board of Education (SBE) last year adopted guidelines for the Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students.

These guidelines are based on the best practices and input from educators, health and mental health providers, social workers, organizations dedicated to preventing bullying and sexual assault, attorneys, and many other who wanted a seat at the table. In addition, input was received from the public over numerous SBE meetings and an open forum on the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) website. While these guidelines are neither law nor policy, they provide a starting point for schools that want to ensure every child has a safe learning environment. Workshops and training are taking place throughout the state.

It always starts with education.

My wife and I live in a small town, too. Dexter, MI is not unlike Grass Lake, though much closer to Ann Arbor. Since we discovered our son was transgender, my wife and I spend much of our time trying to explain it to people, trying to educate. We feel fortunate that our eyes were opened by our son, because it was an awakening. An awakening to reality, the truth, and the daily struggles of those who are marginalized, either by birth or by society.

Though it’s difficult to see the world through another person’s eyes, we try to share this experience. We understand how difficult it can be, because it took having a transgender child to really open our eyes. Some people get it right away, especially if they or a family member are marginalized. For others it may take longer, and that’s why we continue to tell our story.

We commend our Dexter Schools and Grass Lake Community Schools for supporting and defending the well being of every single child – even those living on the margin. Stay strong – our kids need you.

Peter and Sarah Tchoryk are on the Human Rights Campaign Parents for Transgender Equality National Council and work with many families, schools, and companies to help create a world where every child can grow up to live peacefully and productively. Peter is the CEO of Michigan Aerospace and Advisor to the Springmatter Fund. Sarah is a 5th grade teacher in Brighton, MI. They have three wonderful kids and three grandkids — all unique.

The Rest of the Story

Our story begins like so many others. Our then 2-yr-old child began insisting he was a boy. This of course would not be unusual, except we assumed he was a girl based on gender assigned at birth. In most cases a good assumption. As soon as he could speak and express himself, however, it became clear that assumption was incorrect. We came to learn that the insistent, consistent, and persistent behavior of being a different identity is a tell tale sign. It is not a casual dislike of the clothes, hairstyle, name, and anatomy of the assigned identity. It is a desperate, despondent, and fierce rejection. One that threatened his life.

When it came time for Kindergarten, our Principal, Craig McCalla of Cornerstone Elementary in Dexter, MI, 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. It’s why he implements solutions that protect the mainstream and majority of children. It’s why he implements solutions that protect even the smallest percentage of marginalized children.

Our schools very successfully explained to our son’s 2nd and 3rd grade classes what it means to be transgender in the context of all differences. Do you know what happened? The kids got it. They asked few if any questions of my son and instead talked about how they feel when their own differences are not honored.

You can do this because gender is completely separate from sexuality. It’s worth saying again – gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. You can do this because schools already teach about differences and diversity at age-appropriate levels. They already teach kids about their peers who may be of a different race or religion, or have learning or physical challenges, or a host of other differences. And as Adam Briggle, the dad of another transgender child, expressed so well, “I’ll tell Max (my son) as he gets older that his experience of gender is somewhere on the margins of society. But that’s all right. In fact, lots of great stuff happens on the margins.” That’s a message every child should hear.

Like Grass Lake, Dexter is a small town, too, though not quite as rural. We are thankful because our school board, Superintendent, educators and staff have all been extraordinarily supportive. After four years, the school system is more welcoming than ever before. They don’t just tolerate, they embrace. They provide training to help their staff become even more effective educators. They see the value in every child and actively work to help every child — even those who live on the margins. And it’s just the beginning.

Gender and sexual orientation are two different things. Many people are 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 in addition to the millions of people with personal experiences, we have on-going longitudinal studies that show transgender kids are not making this up. There are results in the Journal of Pediatrics showing that supporting transgender kids in their identity lowers their risk of mental health problems to the same levels as the rest of the population. It may ultimately have an impact on the 40+% of the transgender community that attempt suicide.

There is evidence and experience in welcoming schools around the country that demonstrate that allowing transgender kids to live authentically does not in any way threaten other children. In fact, when you create a safe, welcoming environment for LGBTQ children, you make the school safer and more welcoming for every child. Every child has differences.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and every 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.

Of course, in spite of the evidence, the debunking of irrational fears, and the real experiences of millions of people, some still insist on a traditional binary definition of gender.

Allowing transgender kids to live authentically will not only make a better, safer world for them, it will make a better, safer world for all kids. It will not only make the world safer in terms of physical threats, but mentally and emotionally as well. And when we educate kids on the truth of transgender and gender expansive kids, every child will benefit, because every child has differences and needs to know they are valued. This is how we make a better world.

Our school systems have always been on the front lines of justice. From Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine integrating the first schools in the south, to the inclusion of physically challenged kids and those with learning challenges, and now today with transgender kids and the entire LGBTQ community.

But we know it doesn’t end there. After the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, states and communities still resisted integration and fought it tooth and nail. And when some gains had been made through efforts like the bus boycott, many white people called on the black community to slow down and not push so hard. They would say cool off and give everyone more time to consider things. Dr. King’s answer was essentially this, if we cool off any more, we’ll be dead. When people are dying as a result of injustice, there can be no more cooling off.

Just like with segregation of African Americans, it was never just about separate schools or bathrooms. The separation of facilities is merely a symptom. It is not the underlying problem.

Many of the same justifications for segregating our African American population are being used today against our transgender community. It wasn’t long ago when many parents said white children would not be safe in a bathroom with black children because of the potential for sexual assault. Some still believe that today.

Many people said they had a right to privacy, white privacy, and did not want to be around black people in bathrooms or changing facilities. Or schools. Or churches. Or restaurants. Or waiting rooms, or busses, trains, theaters, or parks. It spreads quickly. And it doesn’t stop on its own.

African Americans also faced dehumanization by churches and faith-based organizations that used the Bible and pointed to many verses in scripture to justify segregation and even slavery.

When these arguments failed to keep hold, they morphed into arguments of safety and cultural inferiority, complete with false but widely disseminated scientific and philosophical arguments.

When even those arguments failed to hold, and after 100+ years of segregation, people simply dug in around Jim Crow laws. Unjust laws that defied our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution and the self-evident truth that we are all created equal. Many people saw the Civil Rights movement as a way for the African American community to get special treatment and even pointed out that they were, after all, only a relatively small percentage of the population.

The events in Charlottesville, VA and in many other parts of our country show how far we still have to go.

I’ve sat in many school board meetings and have heard similar arguments. Instead of African American rights and segregation, it’s about transgender kids and allowing them to use the bathrooms in which they identify.

Some people say they love our transgender children, too. But they go on to say that providing for the wellbeing of a small percentage of transgender kids is simply too much to ask, too much of an inconvenience – even when the lives of our kids are at great risk. Even when a perceived inconvenience can be turned into a teaching moment that will make this world safer and better for all.

I guess we should not be too surprised, because there was a time when people used this argument against small percentages of many other kids. In addition to race, religion, and nationality, there is a depressing history of neglect, seclusion, and mistreatment of kids with physical and learning disabilities, kids on the Autism spectrum, kids with hearing or vision impairments, and kids with Down Syndrome, to name a few. We’ve been here before.

This is what makes our public schools unique – and so valuable. Their mission is to ensure every single child, even those living on the margins, have a safe and supportive learning environment. Separate bathrooms and segregating transgender kids does not provide them with a safe or supportive environment – it does just the opposite. It endangers them and it dehumanizes them, just like it did with our African American community. Just like it did with anyone who lives on the margin.

So why help small percentages of marginalized kids in the first place? Why welcome kids who are marginalized into the mainstream? If the moral and social obligation is not enough for you, consider this – diversity is what powers life. You don’t have to be a scientist to see this. It’s evident all around us. Without diversity in nature, life ceases to exist.

Diversity also powers innovation, enlightenment, and groundbreaking discoveries – diversity not only in race, nationality, or culture, but diversity borne from different experiences. The experiences of marginalized and disadvantaged communities give them insights that those growing up in privilege will never have. It’s also one reason why organizations and companies value diversity and inclusivity.

And when we consider the goals of our educational system to prepare kids for life and for meaningful, productive careers, think about this:  the majority of companies in our country also recognize the rights of transgender people to use the bathrooms and facilities that match their identity.

Here are just the companies who signed on to a Supreme Court “friend of the court” brief supporting transgender student Gavin Grimm to use the bathroom of his identity, in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board:

Here are the companies standing up against the “bathroom bill” in Texas, led by the likes of AT&T, IBM, Dell, Kimberly-Clark, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, Apple, Google, and Facebook, and who have signed a letter to the governor:

These companies and many more will sign on to court cases in the future. And there are millions of small and mid-size companies around the country that are inclusive to transgender people and making their voices heard, too.

Our hearts go out to the kids whose parents refuse to understand the truth of being LGBTQ. Those kids are missing out on a great gift. When they enter college and then the workforce, they will learn that companies allow transgender people to use the bathrooms of their identity. They will learn that companies value diversity and inclusion and expect employees to honor differences. They will have LGBTQ coworkers and bosses, because our marginalized, disenfranchised kids will be tomorrow’s leaders and innovators, too.

Our goal is to give every child a chance to learn about the power of diversity, inclusiveness, and equity from a very young age.

It starts with education.

Peter and Sarah Tchoryk are on the Human Rights Campaign Parents for Transgender Equality National Council and work with many organizations, companies, and schools to help create a world where every child can grow up to live peacefully and productively. You can reach us by sending an email through the contact form at www.Springmatter.org and you can find more information about our story at http://embrace.today.

Why MLK’s Dream Is More Relevant Today Than Ever

We must stand up to hatred and injustice wherever it lives, and in the words of King, meet ‘physical force with soul force.’

Our hearts are broken for the families who lost loved ones in Charlottesville, VA. The bravery and sacrifices of Heather Heyer and all those injured standing up to hatred will not be forgotten.

Heather Heyer Photo from GoFundMe Page

The scenes of white supremacists bring flashbacks and foreboding. This is not some isolated event. The problems in our country are systemic.

In a couple weeks we will mark the anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream speech. It has never been more relevant. And 54 years later, never more evident how far we have to go. 

And not long from now, April 4th, 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. On that date in 1968, many feared the Dream might die. On that date, we know some were hoping the Dream would die – the tragedy in Charlottesville shows us too many still do.

Our country has an on-going sickness, stemming from our history of slavery, dehumanization, and discrimination of African Americans and genocide against Native Americans. It has resulted in a systemic spread that reaches all minorities and anyone who is different from the mainstream. And I believe this sickness will be fatal unless every one of us stands up for diversity, inclusivity, and equity.

Last year our seven-year-old son told us he wanted to be like Martin. He heard Dr. King’s Dream speech in school and it sparked something inside him. He was in 2nd grade. And he got it.

Our son happens to be transgender. Like any parent of a transgender child or any marginalized child, we can’t help but wonder what kind of world he will be living in when he grows up.

Dehumanization of any minority, any group of people, will lead to dehumanization of others. It is why Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Coretta Scott King spoke of this with respect to how the LGBTQ community’s struggle for human rights paralleled the African American struggle. In Chicago, 1998, Mrs. King likened homophobia to racism and anti-Semitism, stating

“This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.”

It was not long ago that our country saw fit to enslave and then segregate African Americans. It was within my lifetime that African Americans were forced to use separate schools, churches, bathrooms, areas on trains and busses, restaurants, and even separate drinking fountains. Our country has been a slave nation and a segregated nation much longer than it has been a free nation.

The images of white people, taunting and threatening African American children who tried to integrate schools in the South will always be emblazoned on my mind. And those images are now joined with the screaming faces of white supremacists, torches in hand, in Charlottesville.

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

I’ve seen similar expressions on people speaking against transgender families – despite the evidence showing all children benefit when schools are inclusive. Despite the evidence showing that safety is not compromised. Despite the evidence showing that the vast majority of medical professionals, mental health professionals, and companies are inclusive, recognize the truth, and value our transgender community.

I also see organizations like the American Family Association using their interpretation of faith as a weapon to condemn others. They deceive, promote intolerance of other views, and incite fear so they can influence public policy. And these types of groups and the arguments they make are not new.

Not long ago, many churches and faith-based groups used scripture and these same tactics to justify segregation and slavery. This type of deception and misplaced fear fuels the dehumanization of people of color, different religions and nationalities, the LGBTQ community, and anyone whose differences are an easy scapegoat for systemic problems. Our country has not yet proven it can overcome this.

White nationalists, white supremacists, and alt-right groups fuel the lie that diversity is a threat. At our highest levels of government we see minorities falsely blamed and maligned for systemic ills. The worst part is that these fear-based campaigns ensnare many otherwise caring people who are deceived into vilifying those who are different. It fuels hatred. It fuels violence. Our country is still far from living up to its ideals and far from living up to the Dream.

Photo by Peter Tchoryk

So where do we go from here?

The answer is always in our young people. They are already redefining grassroots activism. We saw this in Charlottesville, too.

Dr. King spoke of a great “world house,” where we can all live peacefully and productively. There is much work to be done in addressing the root causes of social injustice and poverty. It will require a level of courage and a redemptive love for mankind we don’t often see. It will require us to develop what Dr. King called a dangerous unselfishness.

But we can get there if we build on the foundation of nonviolent direct action and economic empowerment to achieve equality and equity. We can get there if we work side by side with other marginalized communities who embrace this vision.

To fulfill the Dream requires a commitment to empowering all children with the knowledge that their differences are the very source of innovation and enlightenment in our world. It requires a commitment to providing all our children with the safe and inclusive learning environments they need to thrive in this world. It requires a commitment to ensuring all people can live their lives authentically and standing up for all those who face discrimination.

I hope every kid wants to be like Martin. I think it’s our only chance. Our Sister’s Keeper #HeatherHeyer 

Peter and Sarah Tchoryk live in Michigan and have three kids and three grandkids. They strive to create meaningful opportunities for all kids — and fulfill the Dream.

A Letter To Texas On Spaceflight, Dreams And Transgender Kids

Our son reflecting on the Dream, where Dr. King gave his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Aug. 28, 1963 (photo by Sarah Tchoryk)

How many of our kids dream of going into space? How many dream of just getting through the next day?

As a kid of the 60’s, I’ve been inspired by NASA and the space program for as long as I can remember. It was the reason I went into engineering. I dreamed of endless possibilities.

But for many, the possibilities were far from endless. It was a daily struggle to survive. It still is.

I was born a couple weeks after Dr. King gave life to the Dream – and only a couple days before the horrific bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church and vicious murders that ended the lives of four little girls and twoyoung boys.

As a nation, how do we reconcile our ability to land a man on the moon within a decade and our inability to end the systematic, violent oppression committed over centuries?

How is it possible for otherwise loving people to ignore the dehumanizing effects that result from segregating and isolating others? People who say they harbor no ill-will against the oppressed, but perpetuate a culture of ill-will.

Dr. King spoke of the strange paradoxes of a nation founded on the principle that all men were created equal, fighting to maintain a culture of institutionalized segregation and discrimination.

This culture persists today.

On what is being called “Discrimination Sunday,” Texas legislators would have made their Jim Crow-era counterparts proud. One of the bills passed by the Texas House, SB2078, includes an amendment preventing transgender K-12 children from using bathrooms matching their gender identity.

Perhaps we should not be surprised.

Bathrooms and public spaces were used like a weapon during the Jim Crow era, as segregationists preyed on fears that African Americans would assault white women and children or pass on diseases. Many of the same scare tactics used to justify segregating African Americans are being used today against transgender people, including children.

These scare tactics were used to great effect in Houston and North Carolina and adopted as a model by other states trying to pass anti-transgender legislation.

How is it possible states can pass this type of legislation despite the overwhelming evidence debunking false claims about safety?

This is not just about bathrooms. And we’ve been here before.

In her enlightening book, Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly introduced us to the extraordinary contributions African American women made to NASA and our space program. It was also a stark reminder of the culture of normalcy around segregation and discrimination that endured into the Space Age.

African American women like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson made great contributions scientifically – and in breaking down barriers of segregation and discrimination. They took a stand.

I ask that the people of Texas take a stand – this time with transgender children and their families.

“All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation … ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. [MLK]

Segregation and “separate but equal” are a thinly veiled rejection of the truth that we are all created equal. Segregation dehumanizes. It isolates and denigrates – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston spoke passionately against the legislation:

“White. Colored. I was living through that era…bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now.

America has long recognized that separate but equal is not equal at all.” “I can also tell you that separate restrooms for transgender kids, which is what we will be discussing for this bill, are also based on fear and not fact.”

Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of nine African American students who integrated Little Rock Central High School, told TIME that she agrees transgender children should be allowed to use bathrooms matching their gender identify:

“I grew up in a Jim Crow environment where you had one sign that said, ‘Colored’ and one said ‘White.’ Here we are looking at some of the same situations … To me, it’s just going backwards. I think that they should demand their rights.”

Thankfully, the lessons of the past are not lost on all.

Businesses including IBM, Dell, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and many others recognize the value of diversity and signed a letter opposing this harmful legislation.

As a parent to a young transgender child and the CEO of an aerospace company, I appeal to the millions of companies and organizations in Texas and elsewhere to do the same.

To those who may have been silent about injustices in the past — it is never too late to speak out.

To those who may have made the wrong choice in the past — it is never too late for redemption.

And as we speak out against injustice, we know of a wondrous power:

“For nonviolence not only calls upon its adherents to avoid external physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love … When I say ‘love’ at this point, I’m not talking about an affectionate emotion. It’s nonsense to urge people, oppressed people, to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I’m talking about something much deeper. I’m talking about a sort of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men … And isn’t it marvelous to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against an unjust system, fight it with all of your might, never accept it, and yet not stoop to violence and hatred in the process?”

So now, through this redemptive power of love, we can dream of endless possibilities.

Peter and Sarah Tchoryk live in Michigan and have three kids and three grandkids. They strive to create meaningful opportunities for all kids — and fulfill the Dream.

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

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.



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


“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 Tchoryk, Peter Tchoryk, Ron ‘JR’ Ford, DeShanna Neal, Sarah McBride – Parents for Transgender Equality Council

“One of the 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.” [Sarah McBride]

Video: HRC 2017 Equality Convention – Parents Panel