Post by Rohmteen Mokhtari, Former HRC Coordinator, Family Project
Recently, The Philadelphia Inquirer profiled a professor, advocate and mother who is proving that with professional development, education, appropriate supporters and forethought, elementary schools can be places where gender expansive students thrive.
"What we are doing is giving people permission to be who they are," Dr. Graciela Slesaransky-Poe said to The Inquirer.
Schools turn to Graciela when they need help supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students. Graciela provides her expertise, tireless advocacy and the tools and resources of the HRC Foundation's Welcoming Schools program.
When a transgender third-grader at Hallowell Elementary School in Horsham, Pennsylvania was preparing to socially transition, Graciela spent weeks providing training and guidance to staff on everything from proper vocabulary to preventing harassment and bullying on the bus. The results were profound.
"We got not one phone call of concern," Principal Steve Glaze recalls. "The only calls we got were people wanting to know how they could help this child."
Graciela is a professor of special education and the founding dean of the Arcadia University School of Education.
Her advocacy for gender-inclusive schools where all students can feel comfortable being who they are is a natural extension of her decades of advocacy for greater inclusion of students with disabilities in schools. It is also personal.
As the parent of a gender expansive child, Graciela worked closely with her son’s school as he was entering first grade to ensure that he would be safe and supported. (Graciela and Lisa Ruzzi, the counselor at her son’s school, detailed the experience in the Journal of LGBT Youth.)
"The reason I talk about my son openly is there is no shame involved,” she said to The Inquirer. “There is nothing wrong with him."
For those of us who’ve known Graciela, the recognition that her work is receiving comes as little surprise. Graciela has been a longtime supporter and National Advisory Council member for Welcoming Schools. The passion and expertise she has brought continues to inform and energize us in our work.