The world watched the news in confusion as they heard that Private Bradley Manning, the man convicted of leaking government secrets to Wikileaks, considers himself a female and wants to be called “Chelsea.” The New York Times agreed to do just that.

Manning is a “transgendered” individual, a person whose self-identity does not conform to conventional notions of male or female gender. “Transgender,” an umbrella term, refers to those with identities that do not completely conform to society’s definitions of male and female.

“People are afraid of what they don’t understand,” Julianna Stout, a science teacher at West, said. “Some people are afraid of others just because they are different than themselves, but in reality, we are really the same. I think because some people don’t understand it, they put those people off. That bothers me. They’re still the same people.”

The Manning case has raised numerous questions.

“I have many friends who are transgender, and it really doesn’t make a difference to me whether they’re male or female. It doesn’t matter whether they’re born that way or whether they change,” Stout said. “I think it would be very difficult to be trapped in a physical body that didn’t match who you truly felt you were. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. To have the ability to make the inside and outside match is a great thing. You are who you are.”

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The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) community has expressed the hope that the Manning situation will raise awareness about the challenges faced by transgendered individuals. That is also the goal of the Falcon Alliance club at West. Club members recently placed “I’m an ally and this is a safe place” signs on the doors of teachers who agreed to oppose bullying targeted at LGBTQ students.

“Falcon Alliance has been going on for about three years.  Though it is a student led group, I keep in contact with the other schools. Every school in Henderson County has a version of Falcon Alliance,” Stout said. “Of course, they all have different names, but it’s all the same thing. I feel West as a whole is very accepting, just look how many of those little safe-place stickers are on teachers’ doors.”

Coming out to parents, teachers and students is a potential challenge for LGBTQ students.

“I haven’t had anyone tell me they were transgender while they were still in school, but I have had some that told me afterward. It’s sad when a student feels like they don’t have someone to talk to about it,” Stout said.

By Joel Fennimore

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