“[My teacher] gave me a new way of thinking about who I could be, beyond the defining checkboxes of my race and gender identity.”

 

As a 16-year-old transgender Latina, I’ve been through the wringer when it comes to harassment by my teachers, administrators and other students. Even living in California — a state with broad LGBTQ protections — I was bullied in fourth and fifth grade. While this was going on, I was also trying to stay on top of my homework and study for tests — and trying to understand who I was.

My teachers only made it worse.

Some made direct comments to me about being “too feminine.” Others cut me out of opportunities at school — including by blocking me from attending P.E. class. And too many stood idly by as I was harassed by my classmates.

At times, it felt like the world was against me. This feeling is all too common for LGBTQ youth. A new study of LGBTQ teens by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the University of Connecticut found that 70 percent of LGBTQ young people report feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week. Astonishingly, my school district even threatened to expel me — me! — in order to prevent this bullying.

Amid all this stress, I did have one amazing supporter — my mom. When my school district tried to kick me out, she reached out to the ACLU, which connected us with an attorney who worked on Seth’s Law. The California law, enacted in 2012, was named after a 13-year-old student who endured years of anti-gay bullying that his school failed to address. It requires public schools in my state to update their policies and programs to protect LGBTQ students. Under this law, my mom was able to file a successful complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, and I was able to stay in my school. I’m lucky to have this support — only one in four LGBTQ youth surveyed by HRC and the University of Connecticut say their families show them support by getting involved in the larger LGBTQ and allied community.

This experience makes it all the more painful to watch the Trump-Pence administration, and its Department of Education, abandon its commitment to stand up for all students — including and especially transgender students. As a young transgender person, I benefited from an administration that fought for me, and my whole life changed for the better. Because of my case, my teachers received training on how to support transgender youth like me, allowing me to walk into my first day of high school knowing that I was Zoey, and that no one could take that away from me.

Last summer I took a trip for LGBTQ filmmakers to Tacoma, Washington. There, I met people who treated me like more than just that transgender Latina kid, more than a curiosity. I stayed with a family who had a gender non-conforming child, and I felt for the first time like I was a big sister. I was supposed to stay with this family for a week — but I ended up staying for three.

My amazing host-family was interested in who I really was, in all of me, and, after years of hiding myself, I finally felt like I wanted to share that with them. After a long battle just to be respected in my school, this trip felt like rehab for my soul.

This trip to Tacoma helped me remember what my wonderful middle school drama teacher had taught me years before — that neither my gender identity nor my Latina identity define the whole of who I am. She made me feel valued not because I was the token transgender Latina girl — but simply because I am Zoey. She gave me a new way of thinking about who I could be, beyond the defining checkboxes of my race and gender identity.

A lot of transgender and Latinx kids see very limited possibilities for our lives. We see the stories of violence and trauma — and 83 percent of LGBTQ youth of color like myself say this racism causes them undue stress. As an HRC Youth Ambassador, I’m embracing my role as an advocate. Earlier this year, I spoke at the organization’s Time to THRIVE conference, where I told hundreds of teachers and youth-serving professionals about my fight, and why they must stand with the LGBTQ young people they serve. Sharing my story in this room filled my heart in a way that gives me hope for the future.

If I could send one message to teachers across the country who are no doubt reading about how the Trump-Pence administration is failing transgender youth, it would be this: All of you, and for all your students, be their special middle-school drama teacher. Create “Tacoma” trips that make trans youths feel safe. Embrace your duty to ensure that trans youth in your schools and in your communities know that they are not alone.

You can tell them that Zoey sent you.

 

Efforts by the Trump administration to implement a ban on allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military continue to be blocked after yet another court ruling against the policy on Friday.

A federal court in Seattle thwarted an administration request for a stay of an earlier injunction that halted the ban while a government appeal is heard.

Judge Marsha Pechman, who according to The Hill is one of four federal judgesto have issued a preliminary injunction against Trump’s transgender military ban, issued the ruling Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Last April, Pechman also ruled that an injunction against the ban would remain in place while several lawsuits make their way through courts.

“The status quo shall remain ‘steady as she goes,’ and the preliminary injunction shall remain in full force and effect nationwide,” Pechman wrote in her ruling, quoting Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson during previous Senate testimony, The Hill reported.

“Today’s [Friday’s] ruling in the lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN and joined by the State of Washington denied the administration’s motion to stay the preliminary injunction the court had granted in December 2017, blocking implementation of the ban and enabling transgender people to enlist in the military for the first time starting January 1, 2018,” Lambda Legal’s Jonathan Adams wrote.

“You would think the administration would get tired of all the losing, and more importantly, would read the writing on the wall and abandon this discriminatory and harmful scheme to prevent brave and qualified transgender people from serving their country,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn said.

Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are representing nine plaintiffs, six who currently serve in the military, in a lawsuit that is expected to go to trial next April, according to Adams.

In the latest ruling, Penchman said the Trump administration had made no new arguments she hadn’t already rejected. Imagine that.

When I was growing up, there were few things as exciting to me as a trip to the Regency Mall in Racine, Wisconsin, for lunch at Chick-fil-A.

My family didn’t have much money then so eating out was a rare treat. But when the trip included waffle fries ― an ingenious food so alien to southern Wisconsin in the early ’80s that they seemed like small, salty miracles to my tiny, still-soft mind ― it was almost too much for me to take.

Still, as delicious as the Georgia-based company’s fried foods were, they weren’t my only weakness as a kid. When I wasn’t fantasizing about grease, I was spending my young swishy days doing a really shitty job of hiding my insatiable hunger for other boys.

I was the kind of gay that doesn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t until I escaped to college that I finally began to accept who and what I was. Once I did, I vowed to never let anyone make me feel like I was less than them simply because I lusted after and loved other men.

So you can imagine how upsetting it was for me when Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, proudly came out as a homophobe in 2012 by claiming, “We are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”

Even worse, the company put its money where Cathy’s vile mouth was by donating millions of dollars each year to anti-LGBTQ organizations via its Winshape nonprofit organization.

As disappointed as I was to learn the chain I had loved as a child was working to make my life and the lives of my fellow queers a living hell, I was heartened by the swift response from the queer community and its supporters. For several years, the only time you’d catch an LGBTQ person or an ally at Chick-fil-A was for a protest

And then ... something changed.

For some strange reason I still don’t fully understand, some queer people and their friends and families began eating at Chick-fil-A again and are still eating there. 

I’d venture a guess that Cathy’s somewhat conciliatory yet ridiculously inadequate non-apology and the company’s (totally bogus) promise to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ groups (while it may have ceased funding some groups, it’s certainly still bankrolling others) may have made some people feel justified in returning to the chain. People can be disturbingly indignant and defiant when faced with giving up their beloved chicken sandwiches.

If you care about queer people ― or you yourself are queer ― you have absolutely no business eating at Chick-fil-A. Ever. It’s really that straightforward.

When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was called out earlier this week for tweeting about eating at Chick-fil-A during Pride Month, I was shocked to see how many queer people and their allies not only didn’t care but went out of their way to defend the fast food chain.

Excuses I’ve heard for continuing to eat at Chick-fil-A range from a nonchalant dismissal of the issue (“In the grand scheme of things, eating there isn’t really that big of a deal and we have bigger problems to worry about”) to an all-or-nothing paradigm (“I can’t possibly avoid all of the problematic companies out there, so why should I worry about this one?”) to a simple admittance that the siren song of the company’s kitchens has proven impossible to ignore (“I know I shouldn’t eat there but it’s just too good not to!”).

To all of these flimsy justifications, I say, “Bullshit.” If you care about queer people ― or you yourself are queer ― you have absolutely no business eating at Chick-fil-A. Ever. It’s really that straightforward.

If you’re arguing there are other (arguably bigger) fish (or, in this case, chicken) to fry, you may not be wrong. However, I think you’re underestimating my (and probably your) ability to be angry about ― and take action against ― more than one target at once. Just because Chick-fil-A may not be as “bad” (in your view) as the Trump administration (or countless other folks or corporations), that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge Chick-fil-A on its anti-queer stance while continuing to call out and work against other offensive and/or dangerous entities. 

Any effort or energy you dedicate to not filling Chick-fil-A’s queerphobic coffers does not compromise your ability to simultaneously do the same with other opponents. Surely, like me, you have enough ― and are, sadly, constantly generating more ― outrage to spread around whenever and wherever it may be needed. 

If you’re arguing that virtually every company doing business today is problematic in one way or another, you’re not wrong there either. (If you want to find other anti-queer culprits, check out the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.) But when a corporation is wafting its anti-queer stance directly under your nose, as Chick-fil-A has and continues to do, not giving them more money to use against us is a no-brainer. 

I’m not saying that in order to be a “good” person or ensure you don’t support despicable businesses, you have to hermetically seal yourself inside your home and only eat food you’ve hydroponically grown and only wear clothes you’ve woven on a loom built using recycled popsicle sticks and the stickier variety of bodily fluids you have handy. I’m saying that when you know a company is anti-queer ― and, what’s more, when a company like Chick-fil-A goes out of its way to tell you as much ― you shouldn’t support them no matter how delicious a reason you can order up.

It sucks that we can’t have waffle fries. But you know what sucks even more? Not having equal rights and contributing to the profits of a company that wants to ensure you never do.

Yeah, I know, I know ― it sucks that we can’t have waffle fries. But you know what sucks even more? Not having equal rights and contributing to the profits of a company that wants to ensure you never do because it believes you’re fundamentally disordered or unnatural or sinful or some delightful combination of all three.

Am I saying Chick-fil-A and everyone who works for it is evil? Of course not. The corporation has done a lot of good and even donated food to volunteers giving blood in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre (though, ironically, most gay men weren’t allowed to participate in that charitable effort).  But none of its generosity changes the fact that the chain has taken and continues to take an anti-queer stance and still donates large sums of money to anti-queer groups.

Ultimately, if you’re going out of your way to find a reason to continue to patronize Chick-fil-A, you might want to examine why you need to expend so much energy to do so.

No one likes to hear that they’re doing something wrong ― or that they can’t have something that brings them immense pleasure ― but that’s still exactly what I’m telling you.

It’s time to choose where your loyalties lie ― with your community or with your stomach. I’m hoping you can find another restaurant to satiate your chicken sandwich cravings. If all else fails, there’s always this recipe to make a copycat version of the Chick-fil-A favorite at home. Sure, it won’t be exactly the same but it’s pretty damn close, and I promise it’ll go down a whole lot easier without all of that nasty queerphobia you’ve been ingesting.

The Kittery School District and the community are making a positive difference in creating a policy that shows transgender students they will be treated equally, with dignity and respect.

Ensuring equal rights for all people should be a simple concept and universally embraced. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Kittery’s new policy is thankfully part of a growing trend that includes a new law passed in New Hampshire this year.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Kittery policy is how the school administration, School Committee members, parents and students came together to make it happen, speaking out with emotion and compassion and addressing opposition that shows a great deal of education is still needed in our society on transgender issues.

It was heartening to see Traip Academy students William Heffron and Jeremy Clifford address the School Committee before it approved the transgender policy. Heffron said his transgender friends are “the kindest, gentlest ... least dangerous people I know.” School Committee member Anne Gilbert said the committee’s “first and foremost responsibility is to protect our students, all of our students.” Committee member Kim Bedard was in tears as she spoke about meeting a transgender person years ago, shaping her views.

The policy, which passed unanimously, says Kittery schools will honor the wishes of students regarding gender identification, names and pronouns. This includes school identifications, classroom rosters, certificates, diplomas and yearbooks. It also states students can use restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities corresponding with the gender identity they assert at school.

That last part is what fear-mongering opponents of transgender equity laws and policies call out every time. It happened again at Kittery’s School Committee meeting Tuesday night, when resident Susan Wiswell raised concerns about a boy pretending to identify as a girl so he could go in a girls locker room and sexually assault someone. These “bathroom myths” are always presented in the scariest way possible by people who don’t want to grant equal rights to all people.

The truth is sexual assault is illegal, of course, and remains illegal, and we as a society simply need to allow people to go to the bathroom when nature calls. That’s it. Schools don’t allow assault or any inappropriate behavior in bathrooms and locker rooms, and a transgender policy doesn’t change that. In New Hampshire, when this issue was raised, Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso, who recently retired, testified that statistically transgender people are far more likely to be victims of assault than assailants. Many schools in our states and around the nation have had policies similar to what Kittery is adopting for a long time. This includes Portsmouth, which adopted its policy in 2016.

In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday signed into law a nondiscrimination bill passed earlier this year. “Discrimination – in any form – is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die spirit,” Sununu said in a statement he released about signing the bill. “If we really want to be the Live Free or Die state, we must ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

New Hampshire already specifically prohibits discrimination based on age, sex, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability, national origin or sexual orientation. Now “gender identity” will be added to that list, and New Hampshire will join all other New England states with similar laws.

The New Hampshire law is a simple change that makes a big difference. This change and the Kittery school policy send a much-needed positive message about humanity and equality in our communities.

We need laws and policies that give everyone equal protections.

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