Student Publications Clear Transgender Path at School

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

School publications in Colorado and Massachusetts show how student publications can play a crucial role in exposing peers to the idea of transgender people and supporting them by using preferred names and pronouns.

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Credit: Steve Rhodes on Flickr, under Creative Commons

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LAKEWOOD, Colo. (WOMENSENEWS)-- For Jake Coykendall, a transgender junior at Lakewood High School here, the times aren't changing fast enough.

"Even the gay movement is light years ahead of the transgender movement," he said in an interview at school. "Many people are not educated on trans issues. I have become immune to feeling bad though when people are confused."

But the school--along with the school newspaper--is nevertheless trying to figure things out.

Last year, after parents flooded the school with complaints about a transgender girl in the female bathrooms, school authorities heard from members of the LGBT community and parents of the student in question. In the end, the school board decided to allow the student to use the restroom she felt most comfortable using.

And earlier this year the staff of the school newspaper, The Spectator, decided to profile Coykendall to help educate the 2,100-member student body. But first they had to educate themselves.

"I didn't understand what being transgender meant" said Emerson Gerali, a staff writer for the newspaper, in an interview in the school's newsroom. "I, along with many other students, was foreign to the subject. So being part of a publication where a trans student was highlighted was something I felt was extremely beneficial."

The two editors of The Spectator tried incorporating a second transitioning female to male student into the story but they found it tough to get the vocabulary right and to feel sure they would handle the subject matter entirely on their own. In the end they brought school counselors into the discussion, who helped facilitate the story.

While the assignment challenged the newspaper staff, Coykendall appreciated the experience. "I like to have the opportunity to help people become educated and being featured in the school paper was an awesome experience," he said.

Now's the Time

For high school newspapers and yearbooks the time for writing and thinking about transgender students has come.

People identifying as transgender in the United States number around 700,000, according to the University of California Los Angeles' Williams Institute.

Public awareness and sensitivity to their preferences has been fueled in the entertainment industry. This week former Olympian and reality TV star Bruce Jenner, who is transitioning to life as a woman, was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair with Jenner's new name, Caitlyn. Popular TV shows such as "Orange is the New Black," and "Transparent" are also increasing awareness; both feature transgender women playing transgendered characters.

Laverne Cox, 30, who plays Sophia Burset on "Orange is the New Black," well remembers the tough times when she was younger. "I was bullied because I didn't act the way someone assigned male at birth was supposed to act," she told , about the growing up in Mobile, Ala. "There was always a kid or groups of kids who wanted to beat me up."

This is where student publications can play a crucial role, exposing peers to the idea of transgender people and supporting their choices by using preferred names and pronouns.

Last school year, the staff of The Genesis, the yearbook for Framingham High School in Massachusetts, did just that after a profile of twins--a boy and a girl-- was assigned to a student staffer who wound up telling Jeremy Flagg, the yearbook adviser, that the male twin had been born female.

"When it came time for yearbook, a student casually said, 'You know he's originally a girl?' And that spurred conversation amongst my editors on how to handle it," Flagg said in an email interview. "We stuck with the idea, 'HE wants to be known as a HE,' and his identity in the yearbook will not be used as a tool to out his secret."

The decision conforms to , which advises editors and reporters to use a person's chosen name and a suitable pronoun for that name.

Flagg, who has been advising The Genesis for three years, didn't get any pushback from the administration. "I think this is partly because we're in Massachusetts or because it's still a touchy subject," he said. "Overall, I know we made the right choice to honor the student's journey."

This story is part of Teen Voices at Women's eNews. In 2013 Women's eNews retained the 25-year-old magazine Teen Voices to continue and further its mission to improve the world for female teens through media. Teen Voices at Women's eNews provides online stories and commentary about issues directly affecting female teens around the world, serving as an outlet for young women to share their experiences and views.

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