Advancing Acceptance Q & A: How two families supported Xander through his transition

Parents, family and friends of transgender youth can play a vital role in providing guidance to others who know or believe their child might be transgender—and that’s where this guide comes in. Hear from the Berman-Ruth and Wylie families discussing how they have supported their son, Xander, a transgender boy, through his transition. Learn more at www.advancingacceptance.org and watch the video “Journeys: The Berman-Ruth & Wylie Families” here.

Your son, Xander, is transgender. At what point did you first notice he identified as a boy, even though you thought you were raising a daughter?

When Xander was four, he asked for a haircut. He had long, beautiful blond hair at that time. I brought him to a salon and they gave him a bob. When they finished, and he looked sad, I said, “Do you want bangs?”  They gave him bangs and then they spun him around in the chair and he had started to cry. He said, “Like a boy.” I told them to cut it short and he was so happy. His haircut was kind of like Mia Farrow’s in Rosemary’s Baby. He looked great, and it gave me an early sense that life as a boy just made so much more sense to him. 

 What are some ways you’ve supported Xander over the years?

We believe it starts with acceptance and trying to put ourselves in his shoes—and often. Not just in elementary school, but during all those life events and into the future. Also, we’ve found that parental advice, with openness, goes a long way to address life challenges. Oh—and a sense of humor!

We’ve supported Xander in his kung fu—he is now a second degree black belt. We encourage his friendships and support him in all of the day-to-day trials and tribulations he goes thru—both as transgender and just being a teenage boy. And we support him in his interests, like going to see live music, watching movies together as a family, getting the books he wants, etc.

 In what specific ways did you support Xander’s gender expression?

As parents the first step is accepting and actively taking part in a child’s gender expression. First by creating a safe space from which to learn and express oneself. This is as much a truth in first grade as it is today. For Xander, in particular, providing the space and openness to him wearing boys clothes, become a black belt, coaching him on little things like a more masculine handshake, haircut and body language tips. 

What kinds of activities do you do as a family?

We do the same activities as most families. We go camping with friends, go out to dinner, have family movie nights. We have also become more politically active, like being politically aware of issues that affect LGBTQ people and the candidates that support our family values of loving, caring openness and equality.    

 How did you navigate extended family relationships to make it safe for Xander to come out?

When Xander was 13, he was concerned how his grandfather felt about the fact that he is transgender—in particular, the fact that his grandfather was not referring to Xander with male pronouns. We reassured Xander. But in the end, I recommended that he should write his grandfather a letter sharing with him his journey and wishes. It was a very understanding, beautiful letter Xander wrote, and today they have a wonderful relationship. Eli still gets frustrated with himself when he messes up pronouns sometimes, and Xander is very understanding. He really appreciates the effort, and they have had good conversations between the two of them. It’s a good lesson for advocating and owning one’s identity and journey.  

 How supportive has Xander’s school been?

Excellent! They were unconditionally helpful. We worked with the school very closely over a series of meetings with teachers and administration for the school. The administration informed all his teachers and ensured he could use the same school facilities as other boys. In fact, it was one of Xander’s teachers who initially suggested that we have his name legally changed; someone had accidently called him by the wrong name, and the teacher saw first-hand how Xander’s heart sank. Overall they’ve been incredibly supportive.

How do you build community for your family?

A lot of it is about enabling both of our kids to have their friends over and by keeping in close touch with our adult friends. The Wileys (Mike and Margaret) are like second parents to Xander and Zuni—and we feel that we are for Lucas as well.

 Has Xander ever been mistreated because of his gender identity?

Yes. In elementary school Xander was bullied by two classmates. The school used the opportunity to provide transgender awareness and anti-bullying discussions for the kids. We also talked to the parents to help them understand what happened. 

 What are your hopes and dreams for Xander as he finishes high school?

Good grades, acceptance into a good college media program (which is his dream), the unfettered continuation of his journey—personal, social, career, love, and identity. 

 Any final thoughts?

We are so proud of our son. He is compassionate, thoughtful, kind, intelligent, is passionate about life, is an incredibly good and loyal friend, and a wonderful human being! We’re most proud of how he balances on the one hand advocating for himself and his identity, while being very compassionate and understanding of friends and family as we all learn together.

The Key for Transgender Youth: Advancing Acceptance

For transgender youth, sometimes a supportive family can make the difference between a happy, healthy, thriving child—or one at greatly elevated risk of depression, suicidal behavior, and other harmful outcomes. Research shows that trans youth with families that support and affirm their gender are at significantly lower risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts or risk, depression, anxiety, or self-harming behaviors. Trans youth with supportive families are also much more likely to have higher self-esteem and overall health, compared to trans youth with unsupportive families. Community support matters too; for example, trans youth with supportive schools, such as those with gender and sexuality alliances (GSAs) or supportive staff and administration, have better health and higher school attendance.

Yet despite the clear and positive impact of family acceptance, only 27% of trans youth say their families are very supportive, according to a survey by Gender Spectrum and the Human Rights Campaign. Similarly, only 9% of trans youth say their communities are very supportive.

That’s why today the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Biden Foundation, and Gender Spectrum are launching a new campaign called Advancing Acceptance to raise awareness about the importance of family and community acceptance in the lives of transgender and gender diverse youth. It also provides crucial resources for friends and family who may have questions, be struggling with acceptance, or who are simply looking for ways to support trans and gender diverse youth.

The campaign includes the debut of a new ad  called “Journeys: The Berman-Ruth & Wylie Families,” which showcases the Berman-Ruth family and their close family friends, the Wylie family, discussing how they have supported their son, Xander, a transgender boy, through his transition.

So how can you get involved? The Advancing Acceptance campaign encourages supporters of trans and gender diverse youth—including LGBTQ youth, parents, siblings, educators, social service providers, coaches, and others—who wish to take action to share their stories, which will be included as part of the Biden Foundation’s “As You Are” campaign. These stories will help highlight the critical importance of affirming, accepting, and supporting LGBTQ young people, and the harms these youth face when their families and communities reject them.

Share your story of acceptance and support of a trans or a gender diverse youth!

For the 1.3+ million transgender youth across the country, acceptance is key to ensuring trans and gender diverse youth are healthy and thriving.

To find out more, visit AdvancingAcceptance.org.

One Letter Makes a World of Difference

January 1, 2019, marks not only the beginning of a new year, but the beginning of California residents being able to select a nonbinary option on their driver’s licenses. California is one of six states, plus Washington D.C., that now allow residents to select “M,” “F,” or “X” to mark their sex on a driver’s license. Commonly referred to as a “gender marker,” this simple letter can make a world of difference for transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people across the country.

People use their driver’s licenses almost every day and in many areas of daily life, from showing ID when using a credit card at the grocery store, movie theater, or restaurant, to accessing their bank account, getting medical prescriptions, or trying to use public services such as getting a library card or bus pass.  Watch “Movie Theater,” an ad from MAP depicting how transgender people can experience discrimination, harassment and denial of equal treatment in places of public accommodation.

Many transgender people choose to update the gender marker on their identity documents so that it matches their gender identity. may also wish to update their gender marker to something that is neither “M” nor “F.” Most people know from a very young age that they are either male or female. But that is not true for everyone. Gender nonbinary describes a person who doesn’t fit into either male or female gender categories.

However, many states have not yet updated their policy or process that allows people to update the gender marker on their driver’s license. This makes it significantly challenging for transgender and nonbinary people to access identification that matches their gender identity and protects their safety.

MAP tracks these laws in our Identity Documents and Policies Map, which is based on the research conducted and compiled by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), available here.

As the new legislative session starts in many states, it’s important that more states continue to update their driver’s license laws, by both simplifying the process of gender marker changes and expanding the options to include nonbinary individuals.

For more information, please see the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Identity Documents Center.

Everything You Need for Transgender Awareness Week

November 12-19 is Transgender Awareness Week, and MAP has the resources your need to reach out to your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues about why you support equality for transgender people.

Despite rising visibility, unprecedented advocacy, and evolving public opinion, stigma, discrimination and even violence are still major threats, particularly for transgender women, transgender people of color, and low-income transgender people.

And this administration is doubling down on attacks on transgender protections. Last month, The New York Times reported that the Trump Administration is preparing to redefine the term “sex” for the purposes of several federal agencies.

This radical redefinition is out of step with science, medicine and the law—and it is intended to not only to eliminate protections for transgender and intersex people, but to stop recognizing transgender and intersex people all together. This would create even more barriers to accessing the resources, protections and care transgender people need to thrive.

That’s why Transgender Awareness Week is such an important opportunity to advance understanding of transgender people, and MAP has the resources to get you started.

RESOURCES:

Getting to Know Transgender People

Transgender People and Public Accommodations

Transgender Students

Transgender People and Health Care

Be An Ally! Support #SafeSchools for All Students!

This week is Ally Week, a student-led program where LGBTQ K- 12 students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from allies in school. This important week of dialogue and understanding is organized by our colleagues at GLSEN.

Every student deserves a fair chance to learn and thrive in school—including students who are transgender. However, according to the 2015 National School Climate Survey, 70% of transgender students said they avoided bathrooms because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

Last week, MAP and GLSEN released a new ad, “Hallway” showing how harmful it can be to force transgender students to use a separate restroom, putting them at risk of bullying and abuse. Transgender students, like all students, want a chance to learn, graduate, and make their families proud, without having to be scared every time they need to do something as basic as using the restroom.

That’s why GLSEN and MAP have launched the Safe Schools Movement campaign to encourage parents, educators, youth, and policymakers to advocate for safe schools for LGBTQ youth.

This Ally Week, there are plenty of ways to take action and support safe schools for all students:

  • WATCH AND SHARE: Watch the new Hallway ad and share it on social media using the #supportsafeschools hashtag.
  • READ MORE in the exclusive article in Teen Vogue.
  • TAKE ACTION: Join the Safe Schools Movement!
  • LEARN more about transgender students and their experiences in school in a new brief from MAP, GLSEN, and NCTE.
  • HAVE A CONVERSATION with your friends and family about supporting safe schools for transgender students. Check out the resources available at www.supportsafeschools.org
  • SUPPORT MORE ADS LIKE “HALLWAY”: Donate $25 to support MAP’s hard-hitting ads that are changing the national conversation about transgender students.

 

Support Safe Schools for Transgender Students

Imagine not being able to use the bathroom at school, or being called the wrong name by your teachers or principal. All too often, that’s what transgender students face in school, making it impossible for them to attend school safely.

A new ad, “Hallway” produced by MAP and released today in partnership with GLSEN shows how just how harmful it can be to force transgender students to use a separate restroom, putting them at risk of bullying and abuse.

Read more about “Hallway” and the Safe Schools Movement in this exclusive from Teen Vogue.

Everyone, including transgender students, cares about safety and privacy in restrooms and locker rooms. School districts across the country have successfully worked to ensure that transgender students have access to facilities that match their gender identity while still protecting the privacy of all students. However, only 14 states plus the District of Columbia have laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination in schools on the bases of gender identity and sexual orientation.

To fill in the gap in state laws, many school districts were turning to the federal government for protections. In 2014, the Obama administration issued official guidance clarifying that transgender students are protected from discrimination based on Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination. However, the Trump administration recently rescinded that guidance, signaling that transgender students cannot count on their federal government for support. And, in February of this year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced that they will no longer be investigating complaints of discrimination filed by transgender students.

According to a new brief released by today by MAP, GLSEN, and the National Center for Transgender Equality, more laws and policies are needed to ensure transgender students can fully participate in school.

Every student deserves a fair chance to learn and thrive in school—including students who are transgender. And our schools have a responsibility to protect all students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

MAP is teaming up with GLSEN, the leading education organization working to create safe and inclusive K-12 schools, to launch the Safe Schools Movement to advocate for safe schools for LGBTQ youth.

Join the Safe Schools Movement and take action today: www.glsen.org/safeschools

Nursing Home shows high risks for LGBT elders

Breaking news this week from Lambda Legal! The 7th Circuit has ruled in favor of their client Marsha Wetzel, a lesbian whose senior living facility failed to protect her from harassment, discrimination, & violence. “Nursing Home” shows the high risks for LGBT elders without nondiscrimination protections. It could mean providers, like nursing homes or senior living facilities, could turn people away and deny them care they need.

 

The Courts: What’s at Stake

As we await confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, the balance of the Court is weighing heavy on our minds. The cases that the Court could consider have sky-high stakes for many communities because they touch nearly all areas of our lives, from healthcare and employment to voting and the environment.

For LGBT families, there are several cases that the Court could consider in the coming terms that could profoundly undermine critical legal protections. This new article from the Daily Beast summarizes many of these cases, which include issues of employee benefits for same-sex spouses and employment protections for LGBT workers.

Perhaps the most alarming are the number of cases focused on religious exemptions and the extent to which individuals, businesses, and even government employees can be exempted from the law—including laws that protect people from discrimination. A growing, coordinated effort to insert religious exemptions into countless areas of law pose a substantial threat not only to LGBT families and their safety and wellbeing, but to women, people of color, people of minority faiths, people with disabilities, and many more. The extent to which these laws impact the lives of millions of people as they go to the doctor, go to restaurants and movie theaters, and even start families is disturbing.

Today, a federal district court in Michigan is hearing arguments in a case brought by the ACLU challenging the state’s policy of allowing Christian agencies receiving taxpayer dollars to care for children in state care to deny loving, qualified families because of who they are. The stakes in this case are also extremely high. Last year, MAP released a new ad “Kids Pay the Price” showing the harms of laws like these when child welfare agencies are allowed to put their own religious beliefs before the best interest of children.

Just yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the Health and Human Services funding bill that would mirror the so-called Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, a federal version of these license-to-discriminate bills we’re seeing in states. The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration later this summer.

And, last week, in a letter to faith leaders, the governor of South Carolina defended asking for a waiver from federal nondiscrimination requirements to permit state- and federally-funded child welfare agencies to discriminate. Miracle Hill, an South Carolina evangelical adoption and foster agency that provides services to children in state care, recently turned away an otherwise qualified Jewish couple because they failed to meet the agency’s religious standard. In addition, last week governor signed legislation making this type of discrimination legal throughout the state. Ten states now permit child placing agencies to make decisions about who can foster or adopt a child in the care of the state based–not on the best interests of a child – but rather based on a religious litmus test.

If these cases–and all other cases focused on the ability of individuals, business, government employees, and others to disregard nondiscrimination laws–were to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the question remains how Judge Kavanaugh would rule.

One thing is clear, we can’t do it alone. Now, more than ever, we need to join together and work to protect our communities from discrimination. Sign up for updates from MAP to learn more about how to take action.

No Place to Call Home: New Ad Shows Real Dangers to LGBT Elders

It’s an emotional time for any family when an aging family member has to move into a nursing home or care facility. For many LGBT older people and their families, the emotions can include fear of being turned away from a facility simply because of who they are. At a time when people need comfort and reassurance, some are denied basic dignity, decency, and respect.

Today, MAP, SAGE, and the Open to All coalition released a new ad, Nursing Home, featuring an older gay man and his family on the first day he moves into an assisted living facility. When the director of the facility learns the man is gay, the man is not allowed to move in. The ad is the latest in a series from MAP that showcase the harms of “religious exemption” laws that allow anti-LGBT discrimination. It’s a hard-hitting reminder of what’s at stake when our nation’s nondiscrimination laws come under fire and when opponents of LGBT equality try to undermine the very foundation of U.S. civil rights laws.

It’s shocking to realize that in a majority of states, LGBT people are not protected against discrimination in housing, employment, or public places like restaurants, hotels, or theaters.

Perhaps even more disturbing is what opponents of LGBT equality are doing to make sure LGBT people have even fewer protections. Right now, we are seeing a coordinated, nationwide effort to file lawsuits and pass laws and policies that would allow individuals, businesses, and even government contractors to use religion as the basis for discriminating against people of color, women, people of minority faiths, and LGBT people, including LGBT elders.

Read more in this opinion piece in The Advocate

While most care providers and businesses will do the right thing when it comes to serving their clients, some will only do so when required by law. In last week’s Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the justices affirmed that states can take steps to protect LGBT people from discrimination, and that religious objections should not be used to deny equal access to goods and services for all Americans. But today, policymakers in Washington and the states are working to pass laws that would increase anti-LGBT discrimination. Among many other negative impacts, these religious exemption laws would allow providers to deny critical health care services and vital social supports to LGBT older adults simply because of who they are.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration established the “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to protect medical providers who deny important care to patients based on religious or moral beliefs. And in the past year alone, lawmakers in 9 states have tried to pass laws allowing anti-LGBT discrimination because of religion.

Religious freedom is a cornerstone of American society, but anti-LGBT forces are using it like a crowbar to break open the door to more discrimination against people because of who they are—not just LGBT people, but anyone that a person, business, or institution finds “objectionable”. In the face of these egregious attempts to strip away nondiscrimination protections and leave our most vulnerable community members at risk, NOW is the time for businesses, care providers, and others to stand up and say their doors are open to everyone and they will not discriminate.

To learn more about how businesses can pledge to be open to all, visit www.OpentoAll.com/business-pledge.

 

So, What Can We Do? New Ad Calls on Supporters to Join the Campaign!

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and many folks are wondering: what can we do?

While the Court’s decision affirms the importance of non-discrimination laws, it does not address the discrimination that millions of Americans still face. In more than half the country, our state laws do not explicitly protect LGBT Americans from discrimination in stores and restaurants, in the workplace, or in housing.

A new ad released today from MAP and the Open to All coalition depicts how hurtful and demeaning it can be to be turned away or refused service by a business simply because of who you are. The ad calls on supporters to join the Open to All campaign in support of nondiscrimination protections for all.

So how can you help?

Ask local businesses in your community to take the Open to All business pledge! It’s easy: businesses go to www.OpenToAll.com/business-pledge and agree to not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

The Open to All coalition is asking supporters to sign the petition and call on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would update our laws to provide all people with full protection from discrimination.

It’s time for our nation’s laws to catch up to our nation’s values and protect all Americans from discrimination, so that no one can be fired from their job, denied a place to live, or turned away from a business simply because of who they are.