Advocates Push DOE On Guidelines For Transgender Students

May 4, 2016

Credit Molly Solomon

Transgender advocates are calling on the Hawai‘i State Department of Education to move more quickly on creating specific guidelines for transgender students. An online petition supporting those plans has already received more than 5,600 signatures over the past two weeks.

More than a dozen people gathered outside the Hawai‘i State Department of Education building. Organizers from the Kumu Hina project led the crowd to the fourth floor. That’s where they presented their petition, all 160 pages, to the Board of Education.

Hina Wong-Kalu from the Kumu Hina Project presented a petition urging clear transgender guidelines to the Board of Education
Credit Molly Solomon

“It is the feeling of inadequacy. It is the feeling than being less than. And it is the feeling of being unappreciated,” said Hina Wong-Kalu, a transgender woman who is part of the Kumu Hina project. She says it’s important that the DOE establish clear guidelines to protect transgender students from discrimination and ensure a safe environment for all genders.

“It’s about fairness, equity and a sense of dignity for all of our students, transgender or not,” said Wong-Kalu.

Without an official statewide policy, schools and parents have been left to figure things out on their own. Wendy Wink is the mother of Kai, a second grader who now goes by Kylie. “She is seven-years-old,” said Wink. “She just transitioned to being a girl.”

Wink says she and Kylie had some challenges early on, especially when Kylie decided to announce her transition at school. “School had no idea how to deal with it,” she said. “They were given no tools.”

Wink says she spent much of her time working with the school’s staff and psychologist, discussing everything from changing pronouns to bullying to knowing which bathroom Kylie could use. “What they needed was a plan and the DOE should have provided that for them and all schools. Something solid that they could’ve taken with them and used to move Kylie through the transition.”

Right now the DOE handles situations like Kylie’s on a case by case basis, says DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz. “I do understand that various communities would like to see us move faster. But we want to make sure it’s done right and that we do it in the most legal and sensitive way.”

For the last 7 months the DOE has been working on draft transgender guidelines. They’ve looked at best practices from other states, like California and New York. “Making sure that those who work in our schools understand what transgender is. What is gender nonconforming? Do we understand what this means and how to address these situations appropriately.”

The draft guidelines are currently being reviewed by the Attorney General and will be presented to the Board of Education on June 7th. The DOE says they hope to have them ready by the next school year.