College Student Creates A Mobile Directory Of 600 Books That Prioritize Diversity

As a kid, Kaya Thomas enjoyed reading. “No matter how old I was, what I was going through, how I felt in any moment, a book was always a means of escape” she wrote in a blog post in 2015. “A way to dive into a new world and become a new character.”

As a self-professed “nerdy black girl in high school,” Thomas’ love of books, and the escapism they afforded, only grew. She’d read three or four a week, seeking solace in their pages when she “felt very different than most of my peers.”

Something changed in those high school years, though. As a mature reader, she began to pay more attention to how the characters in her favorite books were described ― namely, how they were meant to look. “When I was a teenager I began to realize that a lot of the books I read didn’t have characters that looked like me,” she’s since admitted. “Realizing that made me feel invisible.”

So as a student at Dartmouth College, Thomas decided to do something about her sense of invisibility. Not only did she search the internet, compiling her own list of books written by authors of color that put characters of color in primary storylines, she learned to code so that she could share her database with other young readers. After taking part in a Black Girls Code hackathon, and learning the ins and outs of iOs during an internship, Thomas devised an iPhone app that functioned as a directory of 300 books showcasing characters of color.

“Young people should be able to see themselves represented in literature, so they know that their stories are important and that there are authors who […] celebrate their background and show the real lives of people like them,” Thomas wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. She cited books like Nalo Hopkinson’s The Chaos and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus as influential titles in her own life.

“When young people don’t see themselves represented positively in books, TV, movies and other forms of media, that erasure really harms self-image and how you perceive yourself as you grow up,” she added.

Thomas’ app ― We Read Too ― launched in 2014 and has since grown to include over 600 relevant books. It’s also amassed over 15,000 iPhone users, who’ve downloaded the free app and suggested 1,600 other titles be added to the database. And Thomas wants to meet their demands.

Her skills as an iOS developer have grown throughout the course of her various internships and engagement with online development communities. She recently launched an Indiegogo campaign with the hopes of updating her app, quickly surpassing her goal of raising $10,000. Now with a stretch goal of $25,000, she has a few more objectives in mind: hire someone to review the books users suggest and grow the database to include 1,000 titles, create an Android version of We Read Too and initiate a UI redesign, and create a website version of her directory.

“My goal for We Read Too is for it to be the primary directory that contains thousands of works by authors of color of various genres,” Thomas explained. “I want to celebrate these authors and for them to always have a place where their work is celebrated and showcased. “

Thomas describes the response to her app as overwhelmingly positive. She’s seen downloads from all over the world, with parents, educators and students praising the database in reviews.

“I was overwhelmed with joy,” Thomas wrote online. “I knew that if my app had even helped one person feel represented and show them that their stories are being told too, I had done the right thing. This is why technology needs a diverse set of developers making software. We all have stories to tell and we all have communities we love, let’s make technology for us and for those communities.”

As a rising developer, Thomas recognizes the essential role art and culture play in tech communities. Books and music, she says, were just as important to her experience as science and math. Because of that, she seems to favor the STEAM acronym over its shortened cousin.

“I think a lot of folks don’t realize that STEM needs the creativity and mindset that comes from the artistic community,” she concluded. “The two fields are linked and one should not get more support over the other.”

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Source: HuffPost Black Voices

Jesse Williams Calls Racist 'Cotton' Promposal 'Destructive Dumbf**kery'

Jesse Williams is calling out the teens involved in a racist prom proposal that has gone viral.

A photo was posted of two white teens from Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, Florida, standing beside a black teen as they hold a cardboard sign that reads, “You may be picking cotton but we’re picking you to go to prom with us.”

One of the white teens posted the photo to Instagram with the caption “she said yes.” After a screenshot of her post was shared by Monarch High alum Jon Aro on Twitter on Wednesday, the teens received widespread backlash. 

Williams posted a photo of the teens on Instagram on Saturday with a damning caption. 

“Trash and tragedy the likes of this requires a great many failures, lies and omissions, working in concert, publicly and privately, to achieve this level of destructive dumbf**kery. #GETOUT #StayWoke #TheSunkenPlace #AintNuthinChangedButTheDate,” the actor wrote.

The father of one of the white students defended them to Local 10 News, calling it an inside joke. He said the black teen, who is homeschooled and initially wasn’t going to prom, has a grandmother who owns a cotton farm in Alabama.

The father of the other white student apologized on behalf of both teens. 

“They really want to apologize for their extremely poor choice of words in this situation,” he told the local outlet. “They would like to take it back. They would like to find a different way to express this invitation to prom.”

Now, the students are reportedly afraid to attend the dance.

The two white teens have been suspended for a week while the school district investigates, according to CBS Miami.

H/T Vibe

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Source: HuffPost Black Voices

New Children's Book Teaches Black Boys To Treat Black Girls With Respect

Artist Lawrence Lindell wanted black girls to know they have much more value than a lack of media visibility and derisive comments from peers may lead them to believe. 

So he created “From Black Boy With Love.” The children’s book, which was released in late March, contains 24 pages of illustrations of young boys expressing uplifting messages of love to young black girls.

Lindell, a Compton, California, native, is all too aware of the toxic mentality some black men and boys hold toward black women and girls. He told The Huffington Post last week that the book is actually an “alternative to what [he] learned as a young boy.”

“It’s not just about the relationship between black men and women, it’s the relationship between men and women, period,” Lindell said.

“I’m black and my community is full of black and brown women who I love dearly and I wanted to make something for them,” he continued. “But we as men have a huge problem with how we talk, treat and think about women.”

Lindell, a youth art educator, said that he too frequently sees children berating others with one of the first targets of mockery being a darker skin tone.

“The first thing they go for when teasing each other is hair, body shape and skin tone,” Lindell said. “’You ol’ nappy-headed, black-ass charcoal looking girl,’ ‘with yo ugly fat ass.’ We have to change the narrative that the more melanin you have means you’re uglier and that natural hair is bad or improper.”

For the black boys reading the book, Lindell hopes they understand to respect all women, but in particular, black women. 

“Black and brown boys, treat all girls with respect, but especially the ones who look like you, sound like you, live where you live; we have to take care of each other,” he said. 

To get more of where that message is coming from, check out Lawrence Lindell Studios

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Marvel Exec Suggests Comic Sales Fell Because Readers 'Didn’t Want Female Characters'

Over the past few years, the elite club of iconic comic superheroes went from being exclusively white and male ― Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, all the mans ― to incorporating women and people of color into its super-roster.

For example, a Pakistani-American teenager named Kamala Khan became the new Ms. Marvel, and a black science prodigy named Riri Williams made her own Iron Man suit, taking up the Ironheart mantle. Bad Feminist author Roxanne Gay became the first black woman to write for Marvel; her series “World of Wakanda” revolves around queer heroines in an all-women fighting force, based in a fictional African country.

Unfortunately, these initial, long overdue attempts to broaden the definition of who a hero can be are now being blamed for the decline in comic-book sales in 2016. In an interview with “geek culture” website ICv2, Marvel’s vice president of sales David Gabriel said he was told by comic retailers that customers “didn’t want any more diversity.”  

Gabriel continued:

They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.

We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.

Many were quick to challenge Gabriel’s hypothesis that diversity was to blame for a lapse in sales, instead of the fact that most comic books tell the same damn stories over and over and over again.

One vocal commenter was the creator of Ms. Marvel herself, G. Willow Wilson.

In a blog post responding to the controversial statements, Wilson discussed the various other factors that turn readers off from new comic protagonists that don’t relate to their race and gender ― like, for example, that they tend to kill off the reigning, beloved hero and assume his or her position, likely to anger devoted fans. 

Most notably, Wilson took issue with the framing of non-white male characters as “diverse,” instead of just realistic. “Diversity as a form of performative guilt doesn’t work,” she wrote. “Let’s scrap the word diversity entirely and replace it with authenticity and realism. This is not a new world. This is *the world.*”

Others on Twitter chimed in with similar sentiments, expressing that Marvel’s blatant lag time in expanding its catalog of leading characters likely turned readers off as much if not more than their eventual attempts at inclusion. 

However, it’s not all that hard to imagine readers “turning their noses up,” as Gabriel put it, at the concept of being saved by a teenage girl. Just think of the unfathomable wrath generated by the all-female reboot of “Ghostbusters” and the December 2015 installment of “Star Wars,” fronted by a woman and a black man. Sociologists and scholars have studied the propensity for misogyny in stereotypically “nerdy” communities. Very succinctly put, participants in geek culture, often excluded from traditional displays of masculinity, seek protected communities to experience male privileges of dominance, acceptance and superiority

The good news, however, is that Gabriel is determined not to let the decline in sales deter Marvel’s path toward representation and widespread visibility. “Let me be clear,” he wrote in a clarifying statement following his initial remarks, “our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel universe and pair them with our iconic heroes.”

Comic buffs and feminist nerds, if you’re reading, now is the time to support the comic heroes you’d like to see more of. In real life, it’s often women and people of color who put in work to make the world a brighter, safer place. Let’s have our comics tell truthful stories that reflect the world around us, whether or not they involve flying around cities in tight suits and capes.   

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Source: HuffPost Black Voices

Attorney For Bill O’Reilly Accuser Calls Fox News ‘The Bill Cosby Of Corporate America’

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Lisa Bloom, the attorney for a former Fox News guest holding a press conference Monday, ripped the network’s handling of sexual harassment lawsuits against top-rated primetime host Bill O’Reilly and called for an independent investigation. 

“How many women have to come forward?” Bloom, who has also served as an NBC News legal analyst, asked Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “How many millions of dollars have to get paid before Fox News takes sexual harassment seriously?” 

“In my opinion, this network is the Bill Cosby of corporate America,” she continued, in reference to the dozens of women who have accused the famous comedian of sexual assault. “Women over and over again are driven out.”

Bloom’s comments followed a bombshell New York Times investigation published Saturday that revealed payments of about $13 million to five women accusing the primetime star of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior, or verbal abuse. One of the five suits, involving former producer Andrea Mackris, made headlines in 2004. Another suit, involving Fox News employee Juliet Huddy was only reported in January. The other three had not been previously reported. 

A sixth woman, Dr. Wendy Walsh, told the Times that she rebuffed O’Reilly’s advances and he later didn’t follow through on an offer to make her a network contributor. In a release, Bloom said Walsh will speak out at a press conference Monday in Los Angeles and they “will reveal their new demands to the network.”

The revelations about O’Reilly only shed more light on the toxic culture inside Fox News.

Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who built the network with Rupert Murdoch in 1996 and ran it for two decades, resigned in July following a sexual harassment lawsuit from former Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson and amid widespread allegations from women inside the network, including former primetime host Megyn Kelly and many others throughout the executive’s five decades in media and politics. Former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros is also suing Ailes and top executives at Fox News, which she compared to a “Playboy Mansion-Like Cult.”

Federal investigators are currently looking into whether parent company 21st Century Fox didn’t properly notify investigators about payments to Ailes’s accusers and other business practices.

While Fox News recently posted its highest quarterly ratings ever, and enjoys the best access to President Donald Trump, the post-Ailes network continues to be embroiled in scandals related to allegations of employee mistreatment. 

Last month, 21st Century Fox reached a settlement with former Fox News contributor Tamara Holder after she accused former network Fox executive Francisco Cortes of sexual assault. And last week, two black former employees, Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright, filed a racial discrimination suit against longtime Judith Slater, Fox News, and 21st Century Fox. The network had fired Slater just days earlier for what it dubbed “abhorrent behavior.”

O’Reilly, however, has remained seemingly untouchable at Fox News despite the headline-grabbing allegations of sexual harassment over a decade ago and the latest revelations. That’s presumably because “The O’Reilly Factor” draws nearly 4 million viewers nightly, the most in cable news, and his show brought in more than $446 million from 2014 to 2016, according to the Times.

Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity,” O’Reilly said in a statement on his website. “In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline.”

In a statement to HuffPost, 21st Century Fox ― the Murdoch-family owned parent company of Fox News ― noted that no current or former network employee used the company’s hotline “to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously.” The company said it had “looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly. 

“While he denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility,” the statement continued. “Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News.”

The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., reported Saturday that O’Reilly’s contract, originally set to expire at the end of this year, was recently renewed.

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Pregnant Syrian-American Woman Debuts Fire Rap Video 'Hijabi'

Mona Haydar is launching her music career in a big way.

On Monday, Haydar, a Syrian-American poet and artist, debuted “Hijabi,” her first rap music video ― which she filmed when she was eight months pregnant. The video’s style is reminiscent of Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade,” and Muslim women in particular may find it just as empowering.

Consider its opening lyrics:

What that hair look like? Bet that hair look nice. Don’t that make you sweat? Don’t that feel too tight?

Yo, what your hair look like? Bet your hair look nice. How long your hair is?

You need to get your life.

Haydar’s song isn’t just an anthem for Muslim women. It’s an ode to diversity and a clapback to the haters who reject it.

“Given our current administration’s insistence on demonizing and maligning the bodies of women and Muslims, among others, I wanted to get this song out as soon as possible,” Haydar, who now lives in New York, told The Huffington Post. “I hoped that a pregnant woman who is obviously Muslim [and] creating art and speaking truth would inspire people and offer some levity, joy and hope.”

After “Hijabi” debuted Monday, many people became instant fans.

For Haydar, hip-hop and Islam are intertwined.

She grew up in Flint, Michigan, listening to the likes of Mos Def, A Tribe Called Quest and Rakim ― hip-hop artists and groups with members who, as she pointed out, have identified as Muslim. (Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest practices Islam and often discusses his faith during interviews.)

“The immigrant Muslim community owes so much to the black community, which has been here, practicing Islam, since the time when Africans were kidnapped and enslaved here in America,” Haydar told HuffPost.

“You cannot separate Islam from blackness or blackness from hip-hop or hip-hop from Islam,” she added.

Haydar is grateful for black American Islam and its contributions to hip-hop. “What a blessing it is to me that I can even be a small part of a great legacy in creating culture,” she said.

Last year, Haydar and her husband, who is a white American Muslim, made headlines when they hosted public “Ask A Muslim” booths, compete with free doughnuts, in response to Islamophobia after terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

Her latest song is a similar attempt to bring about a positive discussion of diversity and acceptance.

“I want to be able to inspire young girls and let them know that they can look and dress any way they want to and still be relevant and current,” she told HuffPost.

Not everyone, however, has welcomed her efforts.

Haydar says that more conservative Muslims have reached out to her and dismissed her music as “haram,” or forbidden. Those people, she says, believe that women shouldn’t sing or perform. However, that’s not what Haydar believes.

Some people on Twitter have even called her music cringe-worthy, while others have accused her of cultural appropriation.

Haydar maintains that hip-hop has always been a part of her life.

“The cultural language I was brought up in, and my first real love, was hip-hop,” she told HuffPost. “I didn’t choose to fuse hip-hop with my faith. It is simply how my heart is expressing itself.”

As for the Muslims who believe her music is forbidden by their faith, Haydar believes they will eventually come around ― and she sends them her love.

“I’ve studied [Islam]. I’m not a kid rushing into my art. I’m a grown woman who believes that art can change the world,” she said. “I’m not worried about the haters.”

“They’ll get on board eventually and I will welcome them with all my love when they do,” she added. “In the meantime, I still love them dearly.”

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Source: HuffPost Black Voices

Is Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle The Anti-Schutz?

The clutter of opinion around the Dana Schutz Whitney Biennial painting “Open Casket” is like embers that have found a source in which to maintain an inferno. In the heat of this ongoing moment, the discussion itself becomes the topic, taking precedence over the artwork and the contexts in which the painting was created and presented.

When considering a controversial artwork, whether one seeking to bait headlines or one subject to unpredicted reaction, sometimes it is best to locate and consider the merits of an opposite artwork. Finding an opposite artwork to contrast to this picture can bring the discussion back on the thing that will outlast all protests, actions, “takes”, socal media posts and the inevitable careerist symposia: the actual artwork. In this exercise, the wonder and potential liberation from the ordinary that art offers us can be better measured when the things that are absent in one artwork are achingly present in the other. Can the thesis survive an encounter with its antithesis?

Imagine the riveting solo show by Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle “The Evanesced” at the California African American Museum as possibly the opposite artwork from Schutz’ “Open Casket”. Schutz, a white woman, has painted an abstracted version of an iconic image of black trauma that was a catalyst in propelling the civil rights movement forward. Hinkle, an African American woman, has painted expressionistic images of anonymous contemporary black women who have disappeared with many, it is feared, having been kidnapped and murdered. Hinkle paints the horror of not knowing a specific trauma yet knowing specfic trauma is being perpetuated. In a sensitive curation, CAAM’s deputy director Naima Keith places large, almost life-sized portraits of vanished women, leading us to a back wall hosting a seeming infinity of smaller, but no less intense, renderings of the same subject… the nameless, and here sometimes shapeless missing.

Schutz has the comfort of sixty years separating her from the gruesome murder of Emmett Till and, as evinced by the title of her piece, investigates from the perspective of a mother (a point she reiterated in defending her picture to the attacks and protests it has engendered). The context of Dana Schutz’ race has been debated ad nauseum, but in contrast, as a black woman, Hinkle delivers the pictorial equivalent of the Phil Ochs ode, “There But For Fortune Go I”. If Schutz meant for her Till portrait to carry forth the image of that murder into a different medium – and the jeremiads about her motives in doing just this have been downright unfair and border on the self-serving – she cannot evade the scrutiny of having made a prop out of the whole Till epic.

Painting’s capacity to mythologize is its conceptual strength, but with great strength comes great responsibility. One can see that the aim of the Schutz piece is to avoid caricature, but she falls short of any impact that the infamous documentation of Till’s actual open casket did not already convey. Bringing nothing new to the subject she unwittingly made herself the subject, hence the endless contextualizing of the picture as inextricably linked to its author’s whiteness.

Ever the opposite, “The Evanesced” gives viewers what contemporary painting is best at delivering. Hinkle’s ambiguous subjects are concretely defined by their fate as the casual expressionism of her brushwork evokes the anonymity of the subjects. She expertly marks what might be trauma with spatial composition that vaguely illustrates what also might be movement. We see the subjects as present yet evasive. They are both both form and concept. Alive and yet ellusive, they are concretely evanescent.

To nail a concrete paradox is a masterful accomplishment not every artist will come close too in their lifetime. Schutz reached to make an epic pictorial statement and failed. The punishment in the press for this failure is not what painters need to see. Risks need to be taken, and therefore encouraged, or painting is just the home decoration wing of the entertainment-industrial complex. Hinkle meanwhile delves into the invisible horrors right in front of us all and creates work that avoids exploitation, balancing the tragic with the poignant. It is too bad the firestorm of scorn aimed at Dana Schutz cannot somehow be transfigured into accolades for Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle.

“Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle: The Evanesced,” curated by Naima J. Keith, runs at the California African American Museum in L.A.’s Exposition Park until June 25.

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Mississippi State Pulls Off Ridiculous Win Against UConn, Ends 111-Game Winning Streak

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They started as underdogs, but proved they’re truly Bulldogs. 

A 111-game winning streak was finally dismantled Saturday night when Mississippi State’s women’s Bulldogs beat the University of Connecticut Huskies on an epic buzzer-beater. 

MSU won 66-64, knocking the Huskies out of the NCAA tournament as the Bulldogs advance to the women’s championship game.

With only seconds left in overtime, point guard Morgan Williams fired a shot into the basket right as the buzzer sounded. The 5-foot-5 inch point guard was immediately tackled by her teammates in a Bulldog dog pile. 

“I was in shock; I’m still in shock,” William said at a postgame news conference, according to The New York Times. “I’m over here like, dang, I just won the game.” 

As an added bonus, here’s MSU’s Baseball team watching the last few seconds of the game. 

And here it is again, this time set to the “Titanic” theme. Congratulations, Bulldogs. 

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What It's Like To Be A Transgender Teacher In Donald Trump's America

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NEW YORK ― Bahar Akyurtlu had been teaching for about four months at a high school in Harlem before several students began bullying her. When she walked down the halls, clusters of students would shout at her, referring to her as “mister.” In stairwells, students would yell that her voice sounded like a man.

The harassment didn’t surprise her, even if it stung, cutting to the core of her identity. Sadly, she sees it as one of the occupational hazards of being a transgender teacher, she said.

In February, the Trump administration rolled back protections for transgender students. It rescinded guidance that called on school districts to allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender.

LGBTQ students were not the only people in schools that this action impacted. Transgender educators ― even if the move did not necessarily impact the bathroom they use ― had to watch as the rights of LGBTQ students were severed, while facing their own, unique workplace challenges.

The exact number of transgender people who work as educators are unknown, and overall, exact data on the issue is hard to come by. But the ones who do work in education often have to navigate a sticky web of parents, students and colleagues who have varying levels of acceptance, amid a backdrop of minimal workplace protections, The Huffington Post found after interviewing seven transgender educators in March.

These educators are a self-selecting group who have been open about their gender identity at work. Not all transgender people have the same luxury or choose the same path.

Trump’s bathroom rollback was unsurprising for Akyurtlu, who is in her second year of teaching math at a high school for teens who are behind in credits. The 31-year-old teacher said she is “well aware that any protections we do have are extremely recent and extremely tenuous.” That’s why she is trying to coach her students to be vigilant about fighting for social justice.

Earlier this month, she restarted her school’s previously dormant Gay Straight Alliance club. Indeed, she has formed supportive relationships with some of the school’s LGBTQ students. They sometimes act as her protector if any students targeted her. Last year, she watched as some of them got in shouting matches with their intolerant peers.

While Akyurtlu feels lucky to have an accepting school administration and colleagues, she wishes there is more she could do for her transgender students, she said in a recent interview in her teacher’s union office. Last year, she kept a watchful eye on the few transgender students who attended the institution.

Akyurtlu would remind their teachers to refer to them using the proper pronouns and call them by the correct names. When she would spot these students in the hallways ― they tended to stick together  ― she would try and cram in as much advice as possible.

“Anytime I saw them I would bring them aside and be like OK, ‘Where are you getting your healthcare needs taken care of? What kinds of hormones are you taking? Here’s some organizations you can go to if you get into legal trouble ― just try to educate them about their health needs and rights,” said Akyurtlu, who started working as a teacher after spending time as a graduate student at Cornell University and then working in the nonprofit sector with LGBTQ groups. “Hell, I didn’t have any teachers growing up who would have supported gay kids. Hell, sometimes they were the nastiest ones.”

It breaks Akyurtlu’s heart, though, that the students didn’t end up sticking around. Several months before a few of them would have gotten their high school diplomas, they dropped out.

She doesn’t blame them for leaving school ― noting that they had “all of these needs and all of these traumatic things going on, and I’m supposed to teach you geometry?”

Thankfully, she has heard that at least one of them is alive and seems to be doing OK. She worries about the others. With a group that has high rates of criminalization and suicide, the statistics can be daunting.

“We have to make a priority of them and not just settle for the kids with accepting parents or the school that unveils unisex bathrooms. I think we have to really be willing to not just admit these girls exist but that they are part of our community,” Akyurtlu said.

Sam Long, a transgender educator in Denver, had a vastly different experience from Akyurtlu in explaining his gender identity to students. While Akyurtlu did not have control over how and when her kids made this discovery― she supposes they found out on the internet ― Long prepared a carefully crafted speech for his students.

Long didn’t initially plan on telling his students his story this year. Long works at a charter school that just opened and currently only serves ninth-graders. He wanted to wait and see how the school’s culture developed.  

Then the election happened. Suddenly it seemed urgent to open students’ eyes to the diversity that surrounds them, especially after he heard wise-cracking students make jokes about LGBTQ issues.

Long asked his administration if he could tell his story to the students in a daily school-wide meeting. Based on scheduling, they said, he wouldn’t be able to do it until February. Soon, February became March.

The day before the event, he was nervous, repeatedly reminding himself to watch for students’ reactions instead of rushing through the speech. But he was ultimately surprised at how well it went. Weeks later, he said he could see what a positive effect his words had on his relationship with students.

Standing in front of the entire grade in the school’s front hall, Long told attentive students and colleagues how he transitioned between his sophomore and junior year of high school, and faced intense discrimination from his school administrators.

Long’s high school wouldn’t let him use the male restrooms, so he would either wait to secretly use a male restroom in an isolated part of the school, or go in the woods outside. When he tried to go on an overnight field trip with the school’s jazz band, he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to room with male or female students, and would have to pay his own way for a single room if he wanted to attend. He didn’t have the money.

 

Hell, I didn’t have any teachers growing up who would have supported gay kids. Hell, sometimes they were the nastiest ones.

After facing so much intolerance from teachers and administrators, he sued the school years later so that future students might not have to face the same isolation ― a story which he thinks his students appreciated.

“I talked about how much of a gift it is to have your identity and be comfortable with your identity,” Long said. “I think they noticed how important it was symbolically for me to share my story. To show that level of vulnerability is important to this community.”

Referencing an old quote from the author John Shedd, he wanted to show his students that “ships are always safe in the harbor but that’s not what ships are made for.”

Whereas Long thinks some of his students might have previously thought of him as a “boring straight man” or “as somebody to whom school and academics has always come easy to,” they soon learned the reality. “I had a horrible time at school and a hard time at home and I was homeless for a period of time,” he said. “That’s definitely not something they would have assumed.”

 Long and Akyurtlu are lucky in that they are both able to be open about their identities at their jobs. In many ways, they are exceptions. All around the country, transgender teachers have been fired and punished for their identity.  

But Akyurtlu hopes this won’t hold other transgender people back from going into education.

“I know it seems like possibly the hardest job in the world to do when you’re transgender and you will deal with some things, and it will be hard, but it’s hard for everybody, and we can do it,” Akyurtlu said. “I think it’s really necessary for students to be able to see a transgender person in this role, to normalize it in such a day to day constant way really makes a big impact.”

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Rebecca Klein covers the challenges faced in school discipline, school segregation and the achievement gap in K-12 education. Tips? Email: Rebecca.Klein@huffingtonpost.com.

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Source: HuffPost Black Voices