Six young people sat around a table sharing their personal stories to an audience of about 20 people.
Jack Lee Jordan was first. He said he knew he was a boy from a very young age and not his assigned birth sex of female. His mom took it hard. She cried a lot and was in denial, he said.
He remembers a shopping trip where he asked his mom for a suit and tie.
“She said, ‘You’ll never be a boy, so stop asking me these things,’” Jack recounted.
At this workshop, Jordan and other transgender youth talked about their struggles, successes and dreams.
Zachariah Sloane was one of the youth panelists last year. This year, he was the moderator coaxing the conversation along.
“The statistics for trans youth are pretty bad. Studies show that at least one-third of transgender youth attempt or will attempt suicide,” he said.
On the panel of six transgender people all under the age of 21, every one of them said they either contemplated or attempted to commit suicide.
And in most cases, they said, their parents didn’t fully accept their gender identity until their parents realized they were at risk of losing them.
“There would be times where I would be like this close to hanging in my closet,” said Jordan.
He found support at The Yes Institute in Miami and told his mom. The organization helps families understand gender identity and provides counseling to them.
Jack said after counseling and interacting with other parents of transgender children, his mom came around.
“My mom is now my number one supporter,” he said. “She’s there for me for anything, and I love her a lot.”
Adolescence can be incredibly difficult for anyone. That’s especially true for transgender youth who face bullying a lot more often.
But when several of the panelists spoke at the workshop about being bullied, it wasn’t by their peers. They said the bullies were the adults at their schools.
“I had my math teacher, in front of 30 of my peers, call me ‘it’ in the middle of class and was like, ‘Oh, you should get used to this type of treatment,’” said Leo, who declined to provide his last name because he didn’t want to face retaliation at school.
Leo came out as a transgender male just as he was entering the ninth grade.
Another teenager, Victor Lopez, said he also had to deal with teachers who didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand him.
He said one of his teachers called his mom to complain about his transition.
“This specific teacher was like, ‘What’s wrong with your child? I don’t want these kids to be confused,’” he said. “And she doesn’t respect my preferred name.”
His teacher calls him by his last name.
The workshop’s moderator, Sloane, said giving trans youth a voice doesn’t just give them more confidence, it can also change the way society sees transgender people.
“There’s definitely a change coming through,” he said. “You can look at all the online communities and everything, and the youth are building up to make a change in the trans community.”
That change, the panelists agree, will come with more activism around trans rights and issues. It’ll also come with more mainstream and nuanced representations of transgender people in the workplace and in everyday life.
Xzanakya, a 20-year old transgender woman on the panel, said there aren’t enough transgender people in government and mainstream jobs, which she added is vital for transgender issues to gain traction
“I want to study political science and Japanese at the same time," she said. “I want to be a politician.”
Not just any politician. Xzanakya wants to the first transgender U.S. president.