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Exceptional kids, real change, the GenderCool Champions

The GenderCool Champions are leaders in their community. They are articulate, poised, intelligent, talented and ambitious young people

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GenderCool Parents and their kids (Photo courtesy of GenderCool)

NORTHBROOK, Il. – Imagine being a ‘Mom’ running a frenetic household of four kids juggling all of the tasks one associates with parenting in the modern age. Then add a twist when the youngest begins to emerge from the chrysalis of what appeared as an early traditional childhood gender path transforming over time into a butterfly of the opposite gender.

That sort of metamorphosis presents a myriad of challenges for parents least of which is the emotional acceptance of a reality apart from that envisioned as their child is born. Then comes the added burdens of fear created by a societal and cultural non-acceptance and oft time discriminatory bullying treatment of trans and non-binary identifying youth and the overwhelming need to protect their child from that level of cruelty.

Jen Grosshandler and her husband John faced these challenges as their youngest child, their daughter Chazzie, unfurled her butterfly’s wings for the first time as a proud and out trans youth.

Searching for positive stories and reaching out to their immediate community in suburban Chicago, the Grosshandlers were introduced to Gearah Goldstein. Goldstein is nationally recognized LGBTQ+ Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, a speaker, educator, and trainer on LGBTQ+ issues. But for the Grosshandlers, the key factor was that Goldstein identifies as a fully empowered trans female and best of all- a parent herself.

At about the time the three met and started conversing about offering a path to cast a spotlight on just how amazing transgender and non-binary kids are, the Trump Administration commenced a series of attacks on the Trans community. These attacks included trying to eliminate trans healthcare, the ban on military service by trans Americans, and backing efforts by certain school districts to prevent trans youth from being able to use bathrooms according to their chosen gender.

For the Grosshandlers and Goldstein, greater impetus was placed on the critical need to accentuate the positive of trans and non-binary youth against the backdrop of the attacks by the Trump administration and the unkind attacks by a plethora of rightwing extremist anti-LGBTQ groups. The genesis of what became the GenderCool project was born and the stated goal was to take and redirect the negative into a positive by creating systemic change that will improve the lives of transgender and non-binary young people.

GenderCool co-founders Gearah Goldstein & Jen Grosshandler
(Not pictured; John Grosshandler. Photo courtesy of GenderCool)

“The strategy we employ is to evolve opinions of decision makers and the general public by showing them that transgender and non-binary young people are remarkable. The GenderCool Champions —  youth ages 12-17 — are leaders in their community. They are articulate, poised, intelligent, talented and ambitious young people. 

Most importantly, they are thriving, and their ability to connect with the public and key influencers in an exclusively positive way is translating into support and change at every level,” a mission statement from GenderCool reads.

In a phone interview this past weekend with the Blade, Jen Grosshandler chuckled, recalling that “We didn’t have a business plan- no revenue stream, but we did have the motivation and more importantly we had these amazing kids.”

She pointed out that the GenderCool adults felt that there wasn’t enough focus or even concentration on Gender Queer spaces. “It just seemed to me that with of all the negative stories and things said about these kids, one thing stood out and that was 70 to 80% of those being negative had never met a non-binary or Trans kid,” Grosshandler said. “There was fear, awful opinions, but mostly there was just inaccurate information,” she added.

After being handed the phone, Goldstein continued telling the Blade that the fortuitous email exchange between neighbors about kids and transitions had led to a dynamic partnership that was breaking through many barriers, particularly for youth in understanding Gender Identity versus sexual identify and orientation. “It was a five page long emailed response to Jen’s neighborhood inquiry,” Goldstein remembered.

“There’s a need to not conflate those two and we need to help these young people out by creating awareness of that,” she said and added, “Mostly we are focused on telling their stories, letting people see how amazing they are- they are inspiring and are filled with hope and strength.”

In three and a half years, a “kitchen-table project” has turned GenderCool into a worldwide movement, the idea evolved into concrete actions utilizing data from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP).  According to an internal memorandum shared with the Blade by GenderCool, MAP’s data revealed that one of the best ways to build support among the large majority of people in the U.S. for the LGBTQ+ community is to communicate shared values and beliefs.  In essence, to show them that transgender and non-binary people and their families are normal and just like theirs.

The best focal point? The positive stories of the amazing youth and their families.

Incorporating a well thought-out and designed website coupled with multi-media and social media campaigns the momentum propelled GenderCool and the Champions into a formidable group with national exposure, which included a 23 minute live launch on TODAY with veteran NBC News weatherman and anchor Al Roker; NYT, Rolling Stone, ABC News, USA Today, CNN, Forbes, NBC News, Washington Post, MSNBC and other media outlets.

The GenderCool founders managed to create an environment that fostered advocacy and support from corporate America: GenderCool partners include Nike, Dell Technologies, General Mills, NBCUniversal, Intuit, Intel, Indeed, and Bank of America.

All that hard work parlayed into a special invitation from President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden for the GenderCool Project to attend the first White House celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month since the Obama administration.

Although scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic, the highlight of the event held in the East Room of the White House was the GenderCool Project’s own Champion Ashton Mota, who was asked to speak about his life and work with GenderCool and then personally introduce the President.

Enriching that moment was Mota himself being introduced by the first openly gay member of a presidential cabinet confirmed by the United States Senate, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg introduces Ashton Mota as President Joe Biden looks on during the White House Pride event 2021. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

The focus now is embracing the future and expanding the foundations of the Project while placing the organization on a firm financial footing and a strategic plan for expansion and continuing the mission. GenderCool now has a seat at the table, collaborating with the nation’s leading advocacy organizations including Out & Equal, HRC, NCTE, PFLAG, GLAAD, Lambda Legal and others associated with advancing LGBTQ Equality rights.

Recently though came a boost that will immeasurably assist the GenderCool Project.

The Denver, Colorado based Gill Foundation, one of the largest funders of efforts to secure full equality for LGBTQ people, which has thus far invested more than $390 million in programs and nonprofits across the country working to advance equal rights for LGBTQ people, has bestowed a $500,000 contribution to the GenderCool Project.

“We’re honored to receive this grant from the Gill Foundation. It is a game-changing vote of confidence in our mission to help people understand how talented, driven, and kind transgender and nonbinary youth are, showcasing who they are as remarkable young people,” said the Grosshandlers, and Goldstein. “We’re thrilled that these resources will help us do just that so GenderCool — led by the incredible young people we call Champions — can continue to make an impact changing hearts and minds.”

The stories, the exceptional kids, real change, these are the GenderCool Champions, and now a future for them that looks brighter and more inclusive.

GenderCool Champion, college student, musician, artist, & Texas-based LGBTQ activist Landon Richie.
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)
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Virginia

Virginia Senate subcommittee tables anti-Trans student athlete bill

SB 20, which would have exposed school districts to costly lawsuits for failing to protect trans students, was defeated in subcommittee

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Virginia State Senate (Photo Credit; Commonwealth of Virginia government)

RICHMOND – A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on earlier this month, would have required “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Arizona

Arizona Republicans introduce ‘no promo homo’ bill in 2022 session

“I’m extremely disappointed with the Arizona Republicans who continue to perpetuate homophobia and transphobia”

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Arizona Democratic State Rep. Daniel Hernandez is defending LGBTQ+ rights (Photo Courtesy of Rep. Hernandez)

PHOENIX – State Representative Jake Hoffman, (R-12), during a state House Education Committee meeting this week told fellow lawmakers that certain materials he discovered in schools is a foundational reason the committee should pass House Bill 2495

“This one is a teenager masturbating. Here’s another teenager masturbating. Here’s two teenagers engaged in sex,” said Hoffman, presenting what he alleged are examples of what was available to students although he admitted that the materials weren’t in all schools. “There is nothing more sacred than the innocence of a child,” said Hoffman who co-sponsored the bill.

The bill defines ‘sexually explicit materials’ as “Textual, visual or audio materials or materials accessed via any other medium” that depict any of the following matters:

A. NOTWITHSTANDING ANY OTHER LAW, A PUBLIC SCHOOL IN THIS STATE MAY NOT REFER STUDENTS TO OR USE ANY SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL IN ANY MANNER.

B. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS SECTION, “SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIALS” INCLUDES TEXTUAL, VISUAL OR AUDIO MATERIALS OR MATERIALS ACCESSED VIA ANY OTHER MEDIUM THAT DEPICT ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

1. SEXUAL CONDUCT. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS PARAGRAPH, “SEXUAL CONDUCT” MEANS ACTS OF MASTURBATION, HOMOSEXUALITY, SEXUAL INTERCOURSE OR PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH A PERSON’S CLOTHED OR UNCLOTHED GENITALS […]

2. SEXUAL EXCITEMENT.  […]

3. ULTIMATE SEXUAL ACTS. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS PARAGRAPH, “ULTIMATE SEXUAL ACTS” MEANS SEXUAL INTERCOURSE […]

The bill’s definition of homosexuality as ‘sexual conduct’ has drawn sharp criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates including members of the Arizona Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

Democratic State Rep. Daniel Hernandez accused Hoffman and other Republicans pushing for the bill’s passage as engaging in a campaign to turn back LGBTQ+ progress in the state to an earlier era under a law colloquially referred to as the ‘no promo homo,’ which banned the state’s schools from acknowledging or ‘promoting’ a so-called ‘homosexual lifestyle.’

“What this bill does is once and again try and erase the LGBTQ community from Arizona public schools, under the guise of protecting children,” said Hernandez, during the meeting.

“It’s not the mere of status of being a homosexual, it is the act of homosexuality, so the act of sexual intercourse between two people of the same gender. That is a completely different thing than you represented it to be,” Hoffman retorted.

In an email to the Blade Hernandez noted, “Republicans in the legislature are pushing legislation to effectively ban sex education in Arizona schools and roll back the clock. Even mentioning the LGBTQ+ community will be against the law. As someone who knows what it’s like to grow up under an antiquated law that keeps the LGBTQ community from being seen in the classroom, I can tell you this makes our kids less safe.”

Hernandez, who is campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Congress to represent the Second Congressional District, wrote in an email to supporters; “I’m extremely disappointed with the Arizona Republicans who continue to perpetuate homophobia and transphobia. So, I’m speaking out against this shameful targeting of LGBTQ children and erasure of the LGBTQ community. Because as one of four gay members in our state’s legislature, I have a duty to stand up for the LGBTQ Arizonans who can’t be in our state’s Capitol to defend their own rights.”

In 2019, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1346 which repealed the1991 law, which made it illegal for K-12 public schools to provide HIV prevention instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.”

The law had been the subject of a federal lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

New York blogger Joe Jervis reported that Hoffman has been in the national news this week as he is one of Arizona’s fake electors. In 2020 he was banned by Twitter for running a paid teenage pro-Trump troll farm with Charlie Kirk.

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Georgia

Georgia school official says gay art is same as Nazi flag

There are ongoing complaints that this current administration has been discriminatory against women, LGBTQ people & English language learners

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Courtesy of a Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary parent

ATHENS, Ga. – A display of student artwork at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in Athens this past week created a controversy, when a poster that was hung in the collection by a faculty member for a student that had rainbow colors and the words; “Gay is OK,” was taken down by an school administrator who labeled it comparable to exhibition of a Nazi flag.

Atlanta’s NBC affiliate WXIA-TV 11 reported that some parents whose children attend Oglethorpe said they are concerned about how this situation and others have been handled.

“There are ongoing complaints about this current administration has been discriminatory against women, being discriminatory against LGBTQ people, being discriminatory against English language learners or emerging bilinguals, emerging multilingual and Spanish speakers. So we have seen a pattern of inequity at our school and we have been asking for support at this point for years,” said Jemelleh Coes, a parent and professor at the University of Georgia. 

WXIA-TV 11 heard from staff and faculty at the school expressed their disagreement with the characterization of Oglethorpe. A current teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, told the station: 

On behalf of a majority of the staff at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School, we are disheartened that these words and actions have happened in our school building during this time. This does not represent why we chose this profession, and it does not represent the feelings, beliefs, values, and attributes our amazing school family has within these four walls. We are disheartened that there has been no action taken by CCSD or our building administration to rectify the divide that has been caused. We will continue to seek resolution and promote a community of love, acceptance, and tolerance within our building and community. 

Parents want action.

The Clarke County School District released a statement this week:

January 25, 2022

Dear Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary Community, 

I write this letter to acknowledge a situation at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary that has caused a great deal of anger and frustration in our community.

It has been alleged that a piece of student artwork was compared to Nazi symbolism. We have investigated the situation and are working to address the issues with all parties involved. To be clear, we condemn this comparison and discrimination in all its forms. 

The Clarke County School District embraces diversity and inclusion for all students and staff. We stand with our LGBTQIA+ community and are dedicated to proving our commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

To that end, we will continue having sensitive and appropriate conversations with our school communities.

Sincerely,

Brannon Gaskins
Acting Superintendent

Athens Pride weighed in on their social media accounts raising awareness on the issue and then asking people to donate to help LGBTQ people in need. 

Athens Pride is appalled to hear of the actions that transpired at a local elementary school. Our organization is committed to providing resources and support to LGBTQ+ students, parents, and community members- especially now. We are in contact with all parties involved, who at this time request privacy. We will keep the community updated on further information as it becomes available. We are reminded today that our school, city, and people have a lot of work to do to create true safe spaces for our children. Homophobia, Anti-semitism, and all forms of hate have should have no home here in Athens – especially in our public schools.”

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