When Jaim Foster began teaching nearly two decades ago in Nebraska, he said he was discouraged from being an openly gay educator. He had championed LGBT causes at his liberal arts college but suddenly found himself switching pronouns when telling students about his boyfriends.

“I was told I had to stop being that advocate, and I had to go back into the closet because it wasn’t really safe,” the teacher recalled. “You could be fired.”

On Thursday, Foster reflected on how far the country has progressed, he said, as dozens of kindergarten students sat cross-legged in his classroom at Ashlawn Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, listening as an advocate for transgender rights paged through a children’s picture book about a transgender girl.

“I have a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way,” the advocate, Sarah McBride, read to the students from the storybook “I Am Jazz.”

McBride, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, who drew national attention when she came out as transgender the day after her term as American University’s student body president ended, wanted to relay a message of tolerance on a national day of reading led by the country’s largest teachers union.

“For young people, being kind and being respectful is quite simple,” she said. “LGBTQ young people are their classmates, their friends. They may be LGBTQ themselves. And so, this just makes sense. No one’s ever too young to learn to be nice.”

Students throughout the country were expected to participate in the National Education Association’s annual Read Across America Day. It was the first time the union partnered with the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for LGBT civil rights.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the union, said the support was especially urgent because the Trump administration has reversed guidance intended to protect transgender students.

“We have seen a complete, literal rollback of the protections for students, especially transgender students,” said Garcia, who also read to students. “The Trump administration has been openly hostile, whether or not you’re a transgender soldier or a transgender little boy or little girl. It is more important than ever before that we speak out.”

Shortly after President Donald Trump took office, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, who was attorney general at the time, rescinded Obama-era guidance that directed schools to allow students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Some parents and students fear privacy and safety are endangered by accommodating transgender students in school restrooms.

DeVos said states and individual schools should decide how to address transgender students’ needs — a position that runs counter to the Obama administration’s stance that barring students from bathrooms that align with their gender identity violates federal law forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex.

The reversal changed the course of a landmark lawsuit filed by transgender teen Gavin Grimm, who was a sophomore when he sued his Virginia high school for prohibiting him from using the boys’ restroom. The case was scheduled to go in front of the Supreme Court, but the justices, citing the withdrawal of federal support for Grimm, now 19, returned the matter to a lower court.

Schools vary widely on how they educate children on LGBT issues. School systems in Seattle and San Francisco, for example, have built a robust curriculum around sexual orientation and gender identity. But in some conservative states, teachers are prohibited by law from speaking positively about relationships that are not heterosexual.

Arlington does not have a curriculum that specifies how students should be taught about sexual orientation or gender identity, Foster said. But he shares experiences about his spouse with the children and stocks his classroom library with picture books such as “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “My Princess Boy.”

“We talk about it all the time, in one way or another, of accepting families and differences,” he said.

After her reading, McBride told the children, “I’m like Jazz. When I was born, the doctors and my parents, they all thought that I was a boy.”

“Why?” asked a girl in a blue sweater and ponytail.

“Because society, people around them told them that was the case,” McBride said. “It took me getting a little bit older to be able to say that in my heart and in my mind, I knew I was really a girl.”

The kids began discussing hair.

“Can some girls have short hair?” McBride asked. “And can some boys have long hair?”

Yes, the youngsters seemed to agree, answering in unison.

“Anyone can be anything,” one girl chimed in.

 
 

Since 2016, the U.S. military has spent around $8 million on health care to treat the gender dysphoria and gender-confirmation procedures of roughly 1,200 transgender troops.

USA Today published the numbers released by the Department of Defense Wednesday. The report also broke down how many service members have been treated for gender dysphoria in the different branches of the armed services: Army (500), Navy (442), Air Force (354), Marine Corps (101), Coast Guard (33), Public Health Service (4), and reserves (90). The total is 1,542.

This number is low compared with a recent estimate of how many transgender people are serving: roughly 14,700, according to the Palm Center, a research institute that studies LGBTQ military inclusion. That number is based off of data from the Department of Defense and the Palm Center’s own study on the Selected Reserve.

Based on these numbers, the military is the largest employer of transgender people in the United States, and these troops all stand to be fired under President Trump's transgender military ban.

Trump has argued that the military "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail." Experts have disputed this assertion, arguing that the cost, when compared to the Pentagon's $716 billion budget, is minimal.

Indeed, it costs the federal government a high estimate of $3 million alone each time the president flies to his private club in Mar-A-Lago, reports NBC News, as Air Force One costs upward of $140,000 per hour to operate. It is estimated that Trump will have spent 28 percent of his term in transit to or staying at the Palm Beach resort.

In a first, transgender service members testified Wednesday on Capitol Hill, in response to Trump's efforts to expel them and prevent other trans people from enlisting. They emphasized their commitment to the military and their exemplary service, and said that being transgender had no ill effects on them or their fellow troops.

“Good leaders can take a team and make it work,”  Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann told the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, according to the Washington Blade. “Great leaders mold their teams to exceed expectations because it doesn’t matter if you’re female or LGBT. What matters is that each member is capable and focused on the mission.” Dremann is president of SPARTA, a group that advocates for trans troops. He was one of five service members who testified.

Capt. Jennifer Peace, who has served 15 years in the Army and is currently an intelligence officer focusing on Iran, offered similar testimony. “We were out for extended time periods in the theater, in the deserts of California, in the forest of Wisconsin,” she said. “There were never any issues that arose to being transgender. Between the time of the initial announcement of open service and the tweets of our commander in chief, the fact that I was transgender never came up. It wasn’t something that needed to be discussed.”

Representing the Trump administration, James Stewart, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, contended the ban wasn't really a ban on transgender people, just an exclusion of people with gender dysphoria. There are other health conditions that exclude people from military service, he said.

Rep. Anthony Brown, a Maryland Democrat, struck back at him. “We are not talking about heart surgery and diabetes,” Brown said, according to the Blade. “We are talking about a group of Americans who identify as transgender. I’ve never seen a group of Americans, OK, who are prone to heart attacks who come lobbying Congress and say give us the right to serve even though the risk of heart attack is very great because I’ve already had three or four. That’s mixing apples and oranges and I don’t appreciate that.”

Stewart also claimed that current trans military members  would be "grandfathered" and allowed to continue serving under the Trump policy, which does not appear to be the case. A memo on the policy, prepared by former Defense Secretary James Mattis and approved by Trump last year, says trans people willing to serve in their birth gender can stay in the military, and it has exemptions for a few others, but it would bar most.

Several federal courts have issued injunctions blocking the ban while cases against it proceed. The Supreme Court ruled in January to strike down some of these injunctions so that the ban could go into effect while it's being challenged in lower courts, but the decision did not includeone injunction against the ban issued by a federal judge in Maryland. Lawyers for the administration have asked the judge to dissolve his injunction, but he has not done so yet, with the effect that the ban remains on hold.

The hearing was chaired by Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who heads the subcommittee and has introduced a bill to block the ban. Speier told the Blade she's moving forward with the legislation and may attach it to a defense spending bill.

Rainbow House Coalition is set to open its first house for at-risk LGBTQ youth across the Atlanta metro, and at the beginning of March, several tenants will have a new home.

“We have proven that LGBTQ youth excel and blossom when they are in a supportive environment of others like themselves,” said Rick Westbrook, executive director and founder of Rainbow House Coalition. “Our homeless numbers increase yearly to the point of epidemic proportions. RHC offers a way to free up space in programs for youths that need more intensive attention.”

The idea came about after Westbrook left Lost N’ Found Youth. His husband demanded he take three months off and figure out what to do next. He soon realized a major hurdle for homeless LGBTQ youth was a lack of affordable housing in the metro. That’s when the Rainbow House Coalition was born.

“Rainbow House Coalition believes that affordable housing is a right and not a privilege,” said Westbrook. “Our city faces an extreme lack of affordable and shelter systems to accommodate the needs of people on the street, especially LGBTQ youth.”

Currently, funding for the new house is solely funded through donations, but it’s not stopping Westbrook from making his dream a reality. He says it’s the community that’s been a driving force in the project.

“Our community and its supporters have always beckoned the call when I ask for help. We have always taken care of our own. I was supported when I came out and left home but these days, youth are standing proud, not like when my generation came out,” said Westbrook. “The problem is being in the Bible Belt, well over half are put out. Our youth are not disposable and our community will make sure that they get the chance they need to become the beautiful souls they are meant to be.”

The house, dedicated to trans brothers and sisters “at risk” or “transitioning out of homelessness,” will have five bedrooms with private baths, common areas, laundry, and kitchen. Each resident can stay as little or as long as they need depending on their situation and goals for the future. Westbrook says they already have several tenants ready to move in.

“The safety of a bed to sleep on, a roof over my head, and a door that locks behind me is something I haven’t had in almost a year now,” said Avan, a 19-year-old trans man from Augusta, Georgia. “It feels like a luxury to me. It’s comforting to not have to worry how my situation might change if my landlord or housemates discovered the history of my gender identity.”

He began transitioning in high school, but because of social backlash and discrimination, Avan left school and started living on his own. He faced mental, emotional and physical challenges as part of his journey to live

"At one point, I was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric program and was unemployed upon release. After sleeping in abandoned buildings for several months, I decided to hitch a ride to Atlanta,” he said. “I quickly landed a great new job, but still struggled to make ends meet while couchsurfing. I’m now 19 and my life looks completely different. Thanks to the Rainbow House Coalition, I now have a space of my own and can sleep soundly at night.”

Alongside Westbrook, a team of board members will help oversee funding and oversight of those tenants, including Victor Brady and Mark Gibson. The search is still on for three more board members.

By Tim Fitzsimons and The Associated Press

In a historic first, five decorated transgender service members on Wednesday appeared before the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. They testified that upholding President Trump’s transgender military ban would harm military readiness and lethality.

In her opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said upholding President Trump’s transgender military ban would be a “return to the fraught paranoia of 'don’t ask, don’t tell.'”

Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., echoed Speier's sentiment, saying the Trump administration's demand that transgender troops serve as their biological gender means: "You're transgender, and only if you agree not to transition, then you can serve, that's just like 'don't ask, don't tell.'"
 
Testifying before the subcommittee were Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, Army Capt. Alivia Stehlik, Army Capt. Jennifer Peace, Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King and Navy Officer Akira Wyatt. Together, they painted a picture of a military already widely supportive and accepting of transgender and other LGBTQ troops more broadly.

Each testified that their transition did little to impact military readiness, unit cohesion or lethality — all key arguments used by proponents of President Trump's ban on transgender military service.

"What is the value of having transgender people in the military? Based on my experience first as a combat arms officer and medical provider, the answer is unequivocally that my transition — and so many others — has dramatically increased the readiness and lethality of every branch of the armed forces," said Stehlik, who returned from a deployment in Afghanistan a month ago where she treated soldiers as a physical therapist.

Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday showed 59 percent of respondents said transgender troops should be able to serve openly, and just 24 percent said they should not be able to serve openly.

Retired Air Force Gen. James N. Stewart, who is now performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, defended the Trump administration's policy, which is currently blocked by litigation.

He said current transgender troops will be allowed to continue to serve and other transgender people can join the military if they serve in their biological sex and have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition under which people experience distress if they do not identify with their birth gender.

"It's not a ban on transgender individuals," Stewart insisted.

An exchange between Rep. Brown and Stewart turned heated when Stewart suggested that "we are providing an accommodation for one group of individuals versus another," before Brown interrupted.

"I hear about special accommodations, the same thing was said about African Americans when they wanted to enter the Army, in an integrated Army in 1948," said Brown, who is black.

Stewart then insisted that transgender people could serve if they had not yet transitioned. Brown, responded, saying, "You're transgender, and only if you agree not to transition, then you can serve — that's just like 'don't ask, don't tell.'"

"So this conversation about, 'well, we don't ask about transgender, we just go for gender dysphoria,' and then when someone addresses it, they're not allowed to come into the military — that's a problem."

Military chiefs testified before Congress last year saying they found no problems with transgender troops regarding morale and unit cohesion. The five transgender troops who testified Wednesday said their medical transitions took anywhere from four weeks to four months, and they did most of it on their own time. All were fit to be deployed afterward. They said recovery from pregnancy and shoulder surgery takes much longer.

Visibility matters.

For the youth of today to see young transgender characters on shows like Butterfly, a mainstream TV show with famous actors, is monumental. Not only does it serve as a powerful representation for trans youth fighting against the hostility towards their identities, but it also works as an important source of knowledge for the general public who might be unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of the LGBT+ community.

It’s easy to forget that it’s taken years of campaigners working for better representation to bring a story like Butterfly to mainstream television.

Up until the 1990s and mid-2000s, transgender issues weren’t often seen on screen, and when they were, it was through portrayals by straight, cisgender actors like Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, or Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. It wasnˆt until Netflix’s Orange is the New Black launched in 2013 that we saw a real breakthrough for transgender culture, with Laverne Cox in the role of transgender prisoner Sophia Burset.

 

It’s important for minority communities such as ours to reflect on those breakthrough moments to appreciate how far we’ve come – and how much further we still need to go; because it’s only by looking back at our history that we can pave the way forward.

It’s been just over 50 years since same-sex activity between men was decriminalised in the UK, led by John Wolfenden; it’s been almost 50 years since the first Pride march in London, with campaigners like Peter Tatchell; 20 years since television shows with regular LGBT+ characters like Ellen, Friends and Will & Grace first appeared on our screens; 14 years since civil partnerships were introduced in the UK and six years since same-sex marriage became legal.

The UK is now one of the best countries in the world for LGBT+ equality.

However, despite our community’s progress and rich LGBT+ history, there are still many people who don’t see themselves represented in daily life.

That’s why celebrations like LGBT+ History Month, Pride Month, or queer-focused awards allow us to promote LGBT+ causes and raise awareness about the modern issues that affect the community, while celebrating our achievements and increasing the visibility of LGBT+ trailblazers who inspire the next generation of change-makers.

I’m proud that the nominees of the British LGBT Awards reflect that, with a wealth of intersectional role models to be found in this year’s shortlist for the 17 May ceremony.

It’s clear that despite the many strides that have been made in the past, many young LGBT+ people are still struggling to come out today – especially people of colour, who are often marginalised from the mainstream discourses of LGBT+ equality.

Some of the diverse and groundbreaking stars nominated by the British public this year include: pansexual singer Janelle Monáe; gender fluid drag star Courtney Act; Amazon Prime series The Bold Type’s interracial lesbian couple featuring two women of colour; gender fluid model Cara Delevingne; “lesbian Jesus” singer Hayley Kiyoko; actress and political campaigner Cynthia Nixon; drag icon RuPaul; and trans activist Munroe Bergdorf.

While it’s clear that times are changing, it’s important that young LGBT+ people today and the generations to come know our community’s past, and use it as a foundation to give a voice to all of the beautiful intersectionalities within the LGBT+ community.

My hope is that even if LGBT+ youth can’t see themselves represented in history, they will see themselves in the people fighting for their rights today, and grow up knowing that they aren’t alone.

 

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