A transgender teacher in Kansas has been named "National Educator of the Year" by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
Wichita North High School music teacher Stephanie Byers came out as a transgender woman in 2014, The Wichita Eagle reported.
Byers said she decided to come out as a transgender woman just five years shy of possible retirement, despite her fears about what it could mean for her and those around her.
"There was an urgency to it, and I could no longer put it off," Byers said. "But there's still the fear, because you never know."
Byers said she didn't transition to be a pioneer or an advocate, but that she's become both.
The 55-year-old has in recent years met with school leaders, participated on panels about LGBTQ issues, talked with parents about gender identity, chaperoned a local "Day of Advocacy" and spoken at the state Capitol.
Byers said she's received "absolutely amazing" support from Wichita district officials and from North High Principal Sherman Padgett.
"People that I have never spoken to in this building came up and wrapped their arms around me to tell me how much they care for me and love me and were proud of me," Byers said. "It was very, very affirming."
Padgett said he nominated Byers for the award because she's "just an all-around great teacher and a great person."
"It would be great if we could get to the point where we can normalize the LGBTQ community," said Padgett. "She chose to live her true identity, and when that just becomes normal, that's when kids will realize they belong here just as much as everyone else