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.