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WestfordCAT recently caught up with Laine Winokur, Westford Academy’s gender student adviser to ask a few questions about her role at the high school. The School Committee is in the process of adopting a policy to accommodate transgender and gender non-conforming students at the town’s public schools. A final vote is expected to be taken on Oct. 23. Here’s what Winokur had to say.
- What, in your opinion, are the key points of the new transgender policy?
Childhood and adolescence should be a time when students are supported and encouraged to make the best decisions for themselves that will set them up for success. That is certainly my goal as a teacher, and I am confident it is also the goal of all of the excellent teachers and staff members in Westford.
To me, the key point of the new transgender policy is in the first paragraph where it states that Westford Public Schools “ensures that all students have equal rights of access and equal enjoyment of the opportunities, advantages, privileges, and courses of study.”
All of the important details in the transgender policy about names/pronouns, extracurricular activities, privacy, records, etc., are all in place to help students so that they can be successful, healthy, and happy individuals. Many Westford public schools faculty, staff, and students have followed the actions that are outlined in the policy already. This policy merely puts those actions into clear language.
- Why is this policy needed?
How to best support transgender students has been a conversation in Westford since I began teaching here in 2013. In these past five years we have had students, families, and staff members who did not know what resources and options were available to them, which is clearly not what is best for our students. Anything that helps put state laws and suggestions into clear policies is definitely a step in the right direction. It also outlines plans for professional development, which makes me hopeful that my colleagues will be provided with the resources to be able to put these policies into action.
- Can you explain what transgender means?
Transgender simply means that an individual’s gender identity and expression is different from the one that they were assigned at birth.
- Are there any current WA students who will be helped by this policy?
Of course. Every year we have many students who are somewhere in the process of transitioning. I would hope that by putting forward and publicizing this policy anyone who needs it would have specific language that they can use in advocating for their needs.
- What do you want the community to know?
Westford has probably had transgender individuals living here since before the town officially existed. There is an excellent book by the Director of the Stonewall Center at UMass Amherst, Genny Beemyn, called Transgender History in the United States if anyone is interested in learning about the topic further.
Needless to say transgender individuals have lived in America for centuries. What is new is the recent effort to recognize and support transgender individuals, including students. Especially with the rise of super-star transgender celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox pushing this conversation into the open.
- How were you chosen to be the adviser for this initiative?
I was asked to be the advisor for Westford Academy’s GSA in the spring of 2014 after the previous advisor retired. The first year I was the advisor of the club called the Gay-Straight Alliance, but the club members decided the next year to change the name to Gender-Sexuality Alliance to be more inclusive of our members and the topics that we discuss.
I certainly am not the advisor for this initiative to draft a transgender policy for Westford Public Schools, but I am supportive of the efforts of the School Committee.