- Trans woman Stephanie Byers was recently named the Educator of the Year by Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
- Byer’s decision to live authentically in her gender identity came about five years before her retirement, a move that she made despite being afraid of possible repercussions.
- GLSEN is an organization that aimed to promote and create safe and inclusive schools for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
An openly transgender woman and teacher from Wichita, Kansas won a prestigious award according to the transgender latest news posted Wichita Eagle on April 23.
Stephanie Byers, trans woman and the band and orchestra teacher at the Wichita North High School, was recently named the Educator of the Year by Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), an organization that aimed to promote and create safe and inclusive schools for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
About four years ago, Byers, 55, came out to her students during the opening of school.
“I said, ‘Obviously, there’s something different that we need to talk about,'” Byers, who had been known in the community as Mr. Byers for twenty years, said.
“Instead of Mr. Byers, I’m now Ms. Byers,” she shared to her class. “Most of you just call me ‘Byers,’ and that still works. Now, let’s talk about what our goals are for this semester and this school year.”
She claimed that she was the first transgender teacher to transition accepted by the school district in the whole of Wichita.
“To me, being transgender is no more of an identifier of who I am than the fact that I have brown eyes,” she explained. “It’s just what I am. It’s what I was born into.”
When she was transitioning, she was told by the district school officials that there were no guidelines that cover her journey. She never wanted to be a trailblazer or to gain attention, but she seemed to have become a pioneer and an advocate for creating gender-affirming environment in schools.
Nevertheless, she had met leaders of schools, joined discussions about LGBT issues, met with parents to talk about gender identity, organized the local Day of Advocacy, and was invited to speak at the seat of the Kansas state government.
She and her wife, Lori Haas, a marriage and family therapist, often conducted workshops regarding transgender identity to therapist and health professionals. They were also lending their help in creating an educator training program for the local GLSEN chapter.
Speaking to her first-hour orchestra class made up of first-year and second-year high school students, she said, “I don’t know how many people in this room know my background, but I would assume most of them do. We just try to make sure every person, regardless of who they are, is treated with respect and dignity. And that’s something that I’m pretty passionate about.”
Her decision to live authentically in her gender identity came about five years before her retirement, a move that she made despite being afraid of possible repercussions.
A recent study among transgender and non-binary people revealed that over half of them faced workplace harassment and discrimination.
“There was an urgency to it, and I could no longer put it off,” she shared. “But there’s still the fear, because you never know. That very first day, when you walk in and people who have known you throughout your career as someone else now see you differently, how will they react? And what happens with that?”
Bryers, however, acknowledged the support from her community, saying, “People that I have never spoken to in this building came up and wrapped their arms around me to tell me how much they care for me and love me and were proud of me. It was very, very affirming.”
She had also praised North High principal Sherman Padgett who informed the school staff in a meeting in 2014.
“This was something that, in his words, is a very private experience but taking place in a very public environment,” she said. “He announced who I was and who I would be from now on, and the response was overwhelming from my colleagues.”
Padgett meanwhile said that nominating Byers was a recognition for being a great teacher and a great person.
“It would be great if we could get to the point where we can normalize the LGBTQ community,” Padgett said. “She chose to live her true identity, and when that just becomes normal, that’s when kids will realize they belong here just as much as everyone else.”
Her student also praised her for her patience when discussing issues about her gender identity.
“I definitely think it was a confident thing to do,” said flute player and graduate Alondra Larios. “She explained it like, ‘I’m still a normal human being.’ She just changed her pronouns.”
Transgender issues in Kansas
She hoped that her recognition, which she receives in New York last month, would pave the way for more inclusive and safe schools in the whole state.
The schools in Wichita area had been wracked with controversies recently. Backlash from parents halted the move by school officials in allowing transgender students to use bathroom and school facilities that match their gender.
Recently, a gay teacher from Seneca was forced to quit his job due to vitriol and threats he received after coming out.
“It does concern me a little bit, because we don’t know what the reaction will be. . . Part of me always waits for the shoe to drop,” Byers said. “But I am embracing it because I know that the path that I lay down is one that other people will be able to follow. Maybe I can trample down some weeds and create some space for other folks, and that will be able to make their walk a little bit easier.”
She also shared how careful she treated conversation with students about her coming out and gender identity in general by asking them if they have previously discussed with parents and friends.
“One thing we know about people who are transgender is that the suicide-attempt rate is 41 percent,” Byers remarked. “Working something out where they can get that support is probably going to save somebody’s life.”
When former students were bewildered about her transition, she said that’s fine.
“You don’t have to understand if somebody is transgender or not,” Byers exhorted. “Just be kind. Be polite. Be nice. Let them be themselves.”
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