Blake Williams: D-20 student stands up for beliefs

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In November of 2008, I encountered problems because I am transgender. It was a rather traumatizing experience. I had already gone through two high schools in an attempt to find one that accepted me for who I am: A person who was born female, but identified as male. Not feeling accepted, I looked at other kids and wanted to have the same sense of belonging that they did. I didn't want to be treated differently.

When I began to attend Aspen Valley, I was hopeful that I had finally found a school that embraced me. I was allowed to participate in the male activities and the teachers mostly referred to me as Blake, my chosen name.

But then things began to sour. Rumors began going around about me. People made comments like, "If Blake's a boy, why doesn't she use the boy's bathroom."

One teacher continually referred to me by my birth name and used the pronoun 'she'. When my friend attempted to correct her, the teacher said that I was born female, and I was still female. "If she wants to be a boy, that's fine," the teacher said. "But right now, she is a girl."

Later, I found out that several of the students had told the school administration that they were 'uncomfortable' with me, and that they felt I was pushing my beliefs on them. I became depressed and angered.

It was hard, because I finally thought I had found a school that embraced me as Blake. When I found out that I was wrong, it was a devastating blow. My attendance dropped, as did my grades.

My family didn't accept me for who I was, either. I moved out of my house due to family issues. I felt really alone. I began to live at Urban Peak, a shelter for homeless youth. Because of the distance between Aspen Valley and Urban Peak, I never made it to school on time.

I ended up dropping out of school.

At first, I was perfectly fine with simply leaving my school and getting my GED. But when my friends expressed concern about other transgender students that might attend Aspen Valley, I decided to take action to help them.

With the help of the Pride Center and Inside/Out Youth Services, I organized a protest and wrote a letter to the Superintendent of District 20. The letter encouraged the school to obtain training on transgender issues, and offered up Inside/Out Youth Services as the training provider for the school's staff.

The protest included several speakers, and delivery of the letter to the Superintendent. We even had media coverage.

Our work began paying off when a meeting was held with the Superintendent's assistant, the District 20 lawyer, and the school principal a couple of weeks later. The district agreed to write into their policy a clause that protected transgender students from harassment and discrimination.

This was a huge step forward, and I felt that the school was on a path toward creating a more welcoming environment for all of its students.

District 20 also agreed to do annual diversity trainings with their staff, with an emphasis on transgender students. Since then, Inside/Out's Executive Director Deborah Surat has been asked to do the training for Aspen Valley, and other schools have requested education for staff on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender topics.

I feel pleased that as a community, we are now able to go in and educate schools and school systems on the issues that face queer students - and all youth, gay and straight alike. Every student needs to feel comfortable and safe in their learning environment.

And I realized I needed to stand up not just for me, but for every trans person. Because of my experience, I feel more optimistic about my future and the future of Colorado Springs.

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