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Exceptional kids, real change, the GenderCool Champions

Youth articulate, poised, intelligent, talented and ambitious

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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, “It was a five page long emailed response to Jen’s neighborhood inquiry,” Goldstein remembered, had led to a dynamic partnership that was breaking through many barriers, particularly for youth in understanding Gender Identity versus sexual identify and orientation.

“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 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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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained

Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Don Huffines (Screenshot via Twitter)

AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.

Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.

In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”

“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” 

A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.

According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.

GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;

“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”

Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.

Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.

But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.

More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:

Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.” 

The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Data on Texas:

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
    • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

Additional Research: 

  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered. 

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Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit

Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers

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Colorado has become the first state to require transition-related care for transgender people as essential health coverage.

Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.

As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.

“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”

According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.

In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).

“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.

Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.

“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.

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