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Schooling Educators About Transgender Students In North Texas

Gay and Lesbian Alliance
A room of educators from various North Texas school districts attended this information session "Welcome Back to School-The Reality for Transgender Students."

Transgender issues have dominated headlines recently. In particular, students. That leaves educators scrambling for information on the best ways to help. In Collin County, educators showed up for a session on what it means to be transgender. And many of them were school counselors. 

“More than 75 percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe in school,” says Leslie McMurray as she talks to a crowd in a Collin College conference room.

McMurray ran through other statistics: More than 63 percent of transgender students say they avoid using public restrooms because of fears of harassment and assault, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

The audience was filled with educators from North Texas school districts including Plano, McKinney and Frisco. McMurray is a transgender woman. She explained that means she is a woman, despite the male anatomy she was born with. 

Jeanne Rubin is president of the North Texas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a co-sponsor.

“Nobody else is doing this,” Rubin says. “I think it probably is among one of the first of its kind north of 635 or in Collin County, for educators, lots of whom have questions, probably about transgender students. But there was nobody to give any answers.”

Other speakers included a doctor, some attorneys, a parent of a transgender student. They explained some basics about transgender people.

High school counselor Andrea Douglas welcomed the event.

“This is a population that we’re starting to see more and more in our counseling office,” Douglas said. “So being able to have some valid information we can share with these students and their families certainly will help me and my job but also help those students as they are dealing with some of these issues.”    

Sometimes a counselor is the first in a school to work with a transgender student. Counselor Alma Campo isn’t working with any transgender kids yet. That's understandable, since research shows numbers are small. Somewhere between .3 percent and 1.2 percent of the population identifies as transgender. Campo wants to be ready.

“To be able to lend support to students, so that they can have a place to go if they do need to just talk to somebody and not feel they can’t speak to anyone at all," Campo says.

Ryan Smith applauds that kind of support and sensitivity.  His 9-year-old daughter is transgender. Her younger sister was immediately on her side.

Credit Gay and Lesbian Alliance
Gay and Lesbian Alliance
Leslie McMurray, at lectern is a transgender woman. Ryan Smith, far left, seated, is the father of a transgender 9 year-old girl.

“I’ll never forget my wife and my oldest were crying in the room,” Smith recalls. “And my 7-year-old ran in and said what’s wrong, why are they crying? I began to try to explain what it meant to be transgender and why they were crying and my 7-year-old wrote down on little Post-It notes “be brave” and posted it on my oldest daughter’s door. And it was a whole wall, we had to take a picture of it, because it was so empowering - even not fully understanding what it meant to be transgender - that my daughter understood that she needed to support her older sister.”

Smith says children are more understanding.

At first he wasn’t. It took time. Now he speaks out to help other families understand and accept transgender kids. He says it won’t be easy.

“To begin to see this as something that may be a lifelong type of thing that she begins to fight for is something that we’ve done since the beginning of our country.,” Smith says. “Fighting for what we believe is true and knowing that this doesn’t happen overnight.”

Smith, who’s black, says the fight for transgender rights is the latest in the ongoing battle for civil rights.  

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.