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Gender education should be discussed, respected in school systems

Mary Catherine Connors

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A solemn Jeffrey Tambor took the stage Sunday night at the Golden Globe Awards. He received his new award for “Best Actor in a TV Series: Musical or Comedy” and offered a sincere message of thanks to the night’s audience. The show he stars in, “Transparent,” also received an award for “Best Comedy TV Series”. The series, centered on the life of a transgender parent and the struggle for openness and acceptance, is a notable stride in the 
LGBT community.

The show’s award and efforts are commendable, and the only regret is “Transparent” didn’t come into the eyes of American television sooner. Television is a powerful tool and has the capability to shape cultural norms and introduce new ways of thinking to its audience.

But the success and celebration of the television series comes at a time of marked sadness in the community. It’s hard to understand the time we live in when a transgender-centered television series is being honored at one of the most prestigious award shows in American cinema, yet transgender people still suffer an appalling level of discrimination and inequality. According to the Williams Institute, 41 percent of trans-identifying people have attempted suicide. Among those suffering was Leelah Alcorn, a teenager whose story is unfortunately 
too common.

Leelah, born Joshua, was a 17-year- old. She committed suicide recently after her parents denied her to request to formally identify as a female Leelah left a note on Tumblr that shook the world. It’s a letter not telling, but begging people to fight for equality. It’s a battle that belongs to everyone, because winning the war means less suffering and greater acceptance, qualities that are 
indispensable to human life.

“Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself,” Leelah said in her letter. The fact that Leelah found herself faced with choosing the lesser of two evils effectively summarizes the struggle and hardship that apparently more than 41 percent of transgender people face.

Leelah’s story spread like fire through social media and the news circuit. But I wonder at the amount of people who were actually aware of her struggle, aware of her issue and aware of what words like transgender and cisgender actually meant when they read her story. As Leelah continued in her letter, “When I was 14 I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was.”

The fact that Leelah wasn’t familiar with the term transgender before the age of 14 underlines a failure in our education system and hits at the heart of the LGBT equality issue. It’s time for schools to educate students about all sexual orientations and gender identifications. As a result, students will be able to better understand and properly relate to fellow students and the world around them. Vocabulary words like transgender shouldn’t be unspoken in schools. Instead, they should be defined and explained in the classroom at an early age.

Children are taught what boy and girl means before they go to preschool. They receive basic health education in elementary or middle school. And now, they should be taught what the words lesbian, gay, bisexual and other words previously avoided like the plague mean. These words, regardless of personal belief, exist in the world. They are words that are not bad or explicit. They are real, living and breathing possibly in the next desk over.

“Transparent” is a step, but a baby one. We must look below the surface to educate youth about modern human rights issues. In the meantime, Jeffrey Tambor was rightly celebrated. He shows it is possible to adopt a struggle that’s not ‘technically’ 
your own.

Mary Catherine Connors is a sophomore majoring in mathematics and economics. Her column 
runs biweekly.

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Gender education should be discussed, respected in school systems