About six months ago, I took over the social media strategy at Trove. I closely monitored our metrics and developed new strategies based on those metrics.
As more teenagers come out as transgender than ever before, colleges are working to accommodate them.
By Rachel Hatzipanagos
As a high school junior, Emmett Patterson, who was living as Emily, stood in the gymnasium during physical education class.
Boys were called to play on one side of the gym. Girls on the other.
“I didn’t really know where to go,” Patterson said. “It was one of those moments where I started understanding that I didn’t feel like a woman.”
The Pennsylvania teen had a good relationship with his sex education teacher who he went to as a trusted adult to discuss this uncertainty. He was 17 years old.
“She told me, ‘Have you ever heard of transgender?’” And I hadn’t,” Patterson said. He Googled the term and found videos of transgender men talking about their experiences.
“I listened to about 40 of these stories and it hit me and I said ‘that’s exactly how I feel,” Patterson said.
Transgender is an umbrella term for those whose gender identity differs from what was assigned to them at birth, according to GLAAD, the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy organization. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically.
The high school where Patterson had attended never had a student who was openly gay or transgender, so the first steps in his journey to transition were small.
He would bind his chest when he was home alone. He would go to the gas station and fill up a tank of gas while dressed as a boy.
The summer between his junior and senior year of high school, he started coming out as transgender to his close friends and family. His parents had difficulties understanding initially.
“When you come out as trans, you are changing who you are in their eyes. To them, you are changing everything,” Patterson said.
He cut off his hair and entered his senior year of high school as Emmett, a name his parents chose for him. It is what they would have named him had their baby girl been born a baby boy.
“It gave them a chance to be involved in the process, it was awesome,” Patterson said.
It took his parents about a year before they consistently used the correct pronouns to refer to him. His classmates, Patterson said, were less understanding.
“Throughout the year, I would hear passive aggressive comments or aggressive comments. People saying I was a freak, or that I was kidding myself,” Patterson said. “I survived one year of high school, but I know I couldn’t survive two.”
In his own words:
Colleges Transform to Better Serve Students
After graduation, Patterson knew he wanted to get out of Pennsylvania and away from his high school classmates. American University in Washington, D.C., attracted him.
“I heard great things about the gay community on campus specifically,” Patterson said.
While universities generally do not have statistics on the number of students who are transgender, school officials anecdotally report that they have seen an increase.
“I feel like every single year, I am meeting more students identifying that way,” said Matt Bruno, who has been the coordinator of LGBTQ programming at American University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion.
“There is definitely more visibility around trans identity now than ever before,” Bruno said.
As the visibility of transgender students increases, colleges are transforming their campuses into a safe space for them.
Everything from admissions forms, to housing options, and public bathrooms on campus are becoming more accommodating.
More Transgender Students Than Ever Before
So why are colleges seeing more transgender students? People are discovering they are transgender younger than ever before, according to a recent survey of nearly 3,500 transgender people in the United States.
“Colleges are responding because more young people are out as trans, which is due in part to the Internet,” said one of the study’s authors Genny Beemyn, the director of the Stonewall Center: A Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Educational Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The pair asked respondents 41 questions, including the age when they realized they were transgender. Older respondents reported that they were middle-aged when they began their transformation, partly because they did not have access to information about being transgender.
They also did not have transgender people in popular culture to identify with, according to the book.
Younger respondents to the survey, meanwhile, reported coming out in their teens.
“Many younger people indicate that they readily recognized and accepted themselves as transgender,” the book reads.
In 2014, all young people need to do find others who are transgender is turn to a search engine. An April 2014 Google search of the term “transgender” yielded over 14 million results consisting of everything from articles about transgender people in the media to message boards that function as support groups.
Laverne Cox, a transgender woman and actress on the hit Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” frequently discusses her experience as a transgender woman and even made an appearance at American University earlier this year.
One transgender support Web site Laura’s Playground reports that it has 16,948 active members.
With more students coming out as transgender as teenagers, those teens turn to colleges that they know will be welcoming.
Scoping Out Transgender-Friendly Colleges
From the moment transgender students consider which college to attend, the applicant’s gender identity comes into play.
Bruno, the LGBTQ programming director at American University since 2009, said he regularly gets questions from prospective and current students trying to get a feel for whether the campus is trans-friendly.
When Emmett Patterson was scoping out colleges in 2011, he met with Bruno.
“I wanted to make sure that if I came to this school, I would be okay and that I wouldn’t have to worry,” Patterson said. “They were awesome.”
Students who are transgender can also research trans-friendly campuses on the LGBTQ advocacy group website Campus Pride. The group keeps track of which schools offer which services for transgender students.
If students do decide to apply to a particular school, even the application can indicate whether a school is trans friendly. Only a handful of universities have changed their admissions forms to include options for students to indicate a gender beyond male or female, Beemyn said.
Elmhurst College in Illinois, the University of Iowa, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Oregon have changed their admissions documents, Beemyn said.
Beemyn said that the Stonewall Center has been contacted by military academies and religious schools about how to better accommodate transgender students.
“There is probably not a college in the country that does not have trans students,” Beemyn said. “They have to have someone whose job it is to be the LGBT support person to advocate for the needs of students.”
“Schools need to have someone whose jobs it is to cause trouble,” Beemyn added.
Housing for Transgender Students
At George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., the person causing trouble is Ric Chollar.
Just this year, the campus started offering gender-neutral housing options for students. Students can opt to room with either men or women, regardless of their own gender.
Prior to that, the university had accommodated the housing needs for trans students on a case-by-case basis, said Chollar, who has been the associate director for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Resource Office at GMU since 2001.
“For a number of years, we have responded well to individual students when they asked, but the university had stayed away from a consistent policy,” Chollar said.
American University also offers various options for transgender students. They can opt to live in gender-neutral housing, or some, like Emmett Patterson, opt to live in a single dorm.
“I just really wanted my privacy,” Patterson said.
He lived on campus for one year before moving off campus to someplace less expensive.
Teaching Professors to Be Trans Friendly
While housing is a concern, a key part of student life is being comfortable in the classroom.
Transgender students may experience some anxiety about being called by the name they were given at birth in class. Legal names are what appear on the class roster, not preferred names.
At American University, those students can have Bruno, the LBGT coordinator, write a letter to their professor before class begins, explaining to the instructor the how to address the student and the pronouns that are appropriate for them.
“If they have any questions, they can contact me and not the student,” Bruno said.
“We are trying to give space to student to be themselves in class. I’ve never had a faculty member who has pushed back on me.”
Beemyn also speaks with faculty nationwide about transgender awareness programs as director of the Stonewall Center.
Upon request, Beemyn speaks with staff and professors about everything from terminology used in the LGBT community to strategies for people to counter prejudice toward those groups.
“Many people don’t have others in their lives who are out and trans, but most people have friends or neighbors who are out as LG,” Beemyn said. “They’ve learned about sexuality in a way they don’t know about gender identity.”
Just finding a bathroom on campus that transgender students can use can also be a source of stress.
In 2011, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted a survey of 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming people. Twenty-one percent of respondents said that they were not able to work out a suitable bathroom situation in their school.
It’s a situation that Patterson knows all too well. After coming out as transgender in high school, he was not allowed to use neither the girls’ bathroom nor the boys’ bathroom. Instead, he was told to use the bathroom in the school nurse’s office, a single-stall facility.
“One day, I was tired of walking to the nurse’s bathroom, and I was like ‘Fight the system!’ and I said I’ll be fine,” Patterson said.
He used the boy’s room in the basement of his school, figuring not many other students walk down there. As he was coming out of the stall, two other boys came in.
“I started washing my hands, and one of them said, ‘Oh, look. What are you doing in here? Don’t you know you are supposed to be in the girl’s room?’ And as I was turning to leave, one of the guys pushed me down and started hitting me. And I tried to fight him back, and he kept hitting me,” Patterson said.
He ran out of the school, drove home, and collapsed on his bed.
“I was terrified,” Patterson said. “I heard of stories of people being assaulted in bathrooms. And you never think it’s going to happen to you, but it did.”
He said he did not report the incident to school officials at the time.
“I didn’t know my rights at that points and I didn’t feel supported enough to come forward about it,” Patterson said.
“You Never Think It’s Going to Happen to You, But it Did.”
At American University, Patterson has not had trouble finding a bathroom he can use. All single-stall restrooms in D.C. must be labeled gender neutral under D.C. law.
Earlier this month, the D.C. Office of Human Rights launched the Safe Bathrooms DC campaign. The campaign allows people to bring attention to businesses that do not observe gender-neutral restroom laws on Twitter and through the office’s website.
“By working together, we can ensure the transgender community and others who prefer using gender-neutral bathrooms have an increased number of safe places to use,” OHR Director Mónica Palacio said in a prepared statement.
Nationally, student groups for transgender students are also beginning to take shape so that students like Patterson have someone to talk to if they are harassed in the bathroom or anywhere else. In 2011, Eli Erlick founded Trans Student Equality Resources.
Erlick, an 18-year-old freshman and transgender student at Pitzer College in California, started the organization to be a friend for transgender students like herself.
“We general have several people reaching out to us a week,” Erlick said.
The all-volunteer group fields questions ranging from legal issues, to insurance options. Sometimes, callers just want someone to talk to.
“Our goal is that organizations like ours won’t be contacted on victimization issues,” Erlick said.
Colleges can also implement non-discrimination policies that include protections for gender identity. Non-discrimination policies are helpful in developing a formal grievance procedure with clearly defined penalties and implementation of mandatory transgender awareness training programs for staff, Beemyn said.
Beemyn was a graduate student at the University of Iowa in 1996 when they worked to add gender identity to the school’s non-discrimination policy.
“That was the first college in the country to do that. Now, we have more than 700 colleges in the country with that policy,” Beemyn said. “In 15 or so years, that is a good amount of progress. But that’s only a sixth of the colleges in the country.”
Caring for Student Bodies
Transgender students also have to hope their student health plans cover the costs of transitioning.
While American University’s student health plan pays for up to $75,000 worth of transition related care, the problem is finding providers, said David S. Reitman, the medical director at the university’s Student Health Center.
“The reality is that there are very few surgeons that do this kind of work,” Reitman said. “A lot of students say they want in-network providers but they don’t’ exist.”
While the university’s insurance plan does cover hormone treatments, Reitman said there are some challenges in starting treatment.
“I am more than happy to do hormone treatments,” Reitman said. “The problem is that it’s not the kind of thing I have a lot of experience with.”
“What I’ve done with students in the past is that they get at least one consultation with an endocrinologist and once they have that and they are stable and need refills I’m willing to take that over,” Reitman added.
Reitman also worked with Patterson earlier this year. Patterson, who is a co-coordinator of the Trans Advocacy Project for the AU Queers and Allies group, spoke with Reitman about getting the intake forms for patients at the health center changed to include genders other then male or female.
“We’ve actually have been really sensitive and tried to be respectful to make them feel heard,” Reitman said. “So I added in a number of options including asking for a preferred name and pronouns.”
Patterson said that he has been happy with the changes that AU has made in his time as a student.
“AU is a great place,” Patterson said.
While Patterson has medically transitioned, he emphasized that not every transgender person does so and that it’s only one aspect of his journey.
“A lot of times when people talk about trans folks, they talk a lot about ‘have you had the surgery?’ And I think a lot of people aren’t educated enough to know that it’s a really offensive thing to say,” Patterson said.
“Not every trans person will alter their body in that way or at all. A lot of people don’t want to change their bodies. But for me I felt it was necessary to change,” Patterson said.
And with those changes come some interesting experiences for Patterson, especially in how he is treated now.
“People read me as male and I get a lot more privilege being a man,” Patterson said.
“I was told at my old job, “Stop being so bitchy,” and now at my new job, I’m told “Wow, you are such a leader.” And my voice is heard more now because I’m a man and we live in a society where men’s voices are heard more.”
In his first year at school, Patterson did not disclose to anyone he was transgender. In his sophomore year, however, his stance has changed.
“When I came here I was stealth and I didn’t tell anyone because I had been through a few rough patches in high school,” Patterson said. “This year, I’ve started being more vocal. For me, I believe that by being out I have more purpose in my work.”
He also takes some time to do things outside of advocacy, such as being involved in student theater productions and swimming.
“I had to give up swimming for a while because I still wasn’t comfortable with my body,” Patterson said. “It’s exciting to do the things I haven’t done in a while.”
He said that while he now enjoys being out and sharing his experience, he emphasizes that it’s not reflective of every transgender person.
“The only thing I want to say is this is just one person’s experience,” Patterson said.
“It’s a matter of really opening your eyes… and realizing that everyone deserves respect and compassion and love.”
The thought of living next to a nuclear power plant may cause an instinctive shudder in the minds of health-conscious Americans, but does it really pose a health risk?
The answer may be maybe.
According to data provided by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are 101 nuclear power plants in the United States.
The plants are scattered across the country, with Illinois having the most power plants, at 11. According to data from the Center for Disease Control, some states with no power plants at all, such as Kansas, find some of the highest cancer rates.
So it may just mean that living next to nuclear power may not be a direct cause of cancer. However, more data would have to be collected before any conclusions are drawn.
Other questions that would need to be answered before drawing conclusions:
1. I would want to ask the CDC to further explain cancer rates and whether they are accurate indicators of health.
2. I would also ask health experts if there are any previous studies done on proximity to a plant and health?
3. I would want to ask the power companies what precautions they take in terms of securing the public health.
4. What are some of the leading causes of cancer that make up the cancer rate? Lung cancer, etc.?
5. Are there some cancers we could completely rule out as being caused by proximity to nuclear power?
* Cancer rates are per 100,000 persons and are age-adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard population.
* Excludes basal and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin except when these occur on the skin of the genital organs, and in situ cancers except urinary bladder.
* Rates are suppressed for some states at their request.
For this charge, we looked at Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) and the percentage of babies born there who were classified as underweight (5.5 pounds). The data we used was from 2011, the latest data made available by Neighborhood Info DC.
By Rachel Hatzipanagos
When Stephanie Elms first began homeschooling her two boys 12 years ago, resources on getting started were limited.
You really had to be on the lookout for other homeschooling families who could give you tips on how to get started, Elms said.
“Things are a lot more accessible now,” Elms said. “There is more of a chance to get to know someone who is homeschooling, so it winds up seeming like it’s more doable.”
Parents these days have online message boards, online encyclopedias, and even a telephone hotline they can call to get more information on how to homeschool in Virginia.
The increase in resources available to parents reflect demand: in the last decade, there has been a 70 percent increase in homeschooling in Northern Virginia.
Statistics from the Virginia Department of Education show that in the 2003-2004 school year, 3,556 students in Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudoun Counties were registered as home-schooled students.
In 2011-2012 school year, that number jumped to 6,071, or a 71 percent increase.
The numbers reflect a nationwide trend in more families choosing to homeschool.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the latest National Household Education Survey released in 2008 reveals that were are 1.5 million homeschooled students nationwide in 2007.
Compare that to their 1999 survey, which found that there were 850,000 homeschooled students nationwide.
The drastic jump locally and nationwide in homeschooled students begs the question:
So Why Homeschool?
In addition to being a mom who homeschools her sons, Elms, who lives in Annandale, is on the board of directors for the Richmond-based Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.
Each year, the independent non profit group hosts a conference in Richmond for parents interested in homeschooling, and each year she sees more new faces, Elms said.
The reasons for their interests in homeschooling are diverse, and Elms said it gooes beyond the stereotypes: that homeschooling families are religious fundamentalists or want to be isolated.
“There are lot of different reasons,” Elm said. “People think that homeschoolers are just anti school but in my personal case it had nothing to do with the school. I just wanted to spend more time with them.”
Elms’ son Jason was about 5 years old when the family decided to try out homeschooling.
“I felt like I was having enough fun with him that we could continue,” Elms said. “We decided to take it a year at a time and here we are 12 years later.”
Elms said that from what she’s heard in speaking with families, many of them opt to homeschool to avoid what they say is an increasing emphasis on standardized testing in public schools.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2007 survey, three factors were cited as the most important determining factors in opting to homeschool: to provide religious or moral instruction, concern about the school environment, and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools.
“People are just aware of a lot more options,” Elms said. “If their child is struggling, they may say there’s a different way.”
Network, Network, Network
From the outside, the image of a homeschooling student may be of a child that does not interact with children their age and spends most of the day in their pajamas.
But on a sunny October day, Elms and about 30 families gathered their children to hang out at Fairfax’s Van Dyke Park after classes.
“There are kids here who range from infants to 17 year olds,” Elms said. “They get to run around and socialize.”
It’s one of the frequent meet-ups Fairfax County parents organize to keep them in touch. Activities range from soccer, church groups, laser tag night and more.
“There are actually a lot of activities going on to the point we say no to some activities,” Elms said. “Socialization is the biggest question people have but once you get plugged in you find there is a whole group of kids.”
That network also comes in handy when parents are confronted with trying to teach a subject they may not be familiar with. When her older son, Jason, needed to take a biology course, a group of parents combined to hire in a private biology teacher to teach the class.
“There’s really a variety of ways to handle it,” Elms said. “Different homeschoolers will handle things differently. The key thing is the flexibility we have. We can make it work.”
Or sometimes it’s a mix.
“My older son does a combination of online classes, individual study in history, and in-person classes as well,” Elms said. “We have a Friday co-op where they learn about the Supreme Court.”
Find out More
Parents who opt to homeschool have VirginiaHomeschoolers.org to visit for educational and legal requirements needed to get started homeschooling.
“The biggest thing parents have to do is to read about it and talk to other people who are homeschooling,” Elms said.
Meet World Champion boxer Tori Nelson, of Ashburn, Va.
ASHBURN, Va. –Women and men rip furiously onto their punching bags to the command of instructor Tori Nelson.
“Go! Twenty-three seconds guys,” Nelson shouts to the group at Ashburn’s L.A. Boxing, where she first learned how to fight.
Seven years ago, Nelson wasn’t any different from the woman she is teaching in class. She wanted to get in shape and how to throw a good punch.
She has learned that and more. At 36, the mother of two is the World Boxing Council’s middleweight boxing champion.
“My trainer asked me one day what would you do if you had to compete? And I said, ‘If I compete, I’m going to be the world champion.’ And by God’s grace, I’m the world champion,” Nelson said.
She is going to defend her title on September 21 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax. But for that, she needs sponsorship.
“Women’s boxing, it’s sad to say, is really not respected in the United States,” Nelson said. “Here they say ‘Hey Champ’ and keep walking.”
She needs money to compete and train, and the freedom to make boxing as her full-time job. Her two children, 15 and 18, rely on her for support.
During the school year, she works as in a school cafeteria and as a bus driver for Loudoun County Public Schools. She also sporadically works at IHOP as a waitress.
“I’m the provider for them so I have to do what I have to do,” Nelson said.
While male headlining boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao made Forbes’ 2013 list of the world’s top paid athletes (both earn $34 million), female boxers struggle to maintain a following.
Part of that is because female boxing as an organized sport is in its infancy as far as professional sports go. USA Boxing, the sport’s regulatory agency, did not recognize women boxers until 1993 after a 16-year-old girl with the help of the ACLU sued the organization for the right to compete, the L.A. Times reported. Female boxing didn’t make it to the summer Olympics until 2012.
Despite the progress that women boxers have made, Nelson said that she still sees a discrepancy in the public eye.
“If I was a guy I would be much further then where I am now,” Nelson said.
Her trainer, Craig Fladager, who has taught men, women, and children in the course of his career, said that there are some advantages to being a woman boxer, like not having as much competition.
“There’s not as many women boxers…If you’re good, you can rise to the top fairly quickly like she did,” Fladager said.
Nelson is at the gym every day. In the weeks before a major bout, it’s twice a day, at 5:30 a.m. and at 6:30 p.m. Her daughter, Simone, helps her train in the evenings. While at first it was shocking to see her mother get hit in the ring, being there when her mom won was all worth it.
“When I found out my mom was the world champion, I was like wow. Cause I thought my mom was just okay, but this showed that she was amazing at what she does,” Simone, 15, said.
Simone said that she doesn’t know if she wants to be a boxer like her mother, but she has taken a few classes.
I see how passionate she is about it and it makes me want to see if I would be as passionate about it as she is,” Simone said.
As Nelson walks through the Ashburn gym, she greets every boxer with a smile or a hug. She offers advice to the room of mostly young men in the room.
Nelson said that she hopes to retire from boxing in the next three to four years.
“I want to be that role model. I want to be that one that people look to and say ‘She had a kid early she worked and she was still a champion,’” Nelson said. “When I’m all done with it, I want to train the next champion.”