Junior teaches freshman English classes about transgender issues


Junior Lukas Gates teaches a freshman English class on transgender issues. Gates ran the presentations as part of English teacher Omari James’ “Taste of the World At Large” lessons. Photo by Zoe Kaufmann.

By Zoe Kaufmann

“No one ever thinks of us as human.”

These words, delivered by transgender poet Lee Mokobe in a TED Talk, rang through English teacher Omari James’ classroom Nov. 17 as part of junior Lukas Gates’ presentation on transgender issues.

Gates presented to James’ freshman English classes as part of James’s “Taste of the World At Large” series, which includes lessons centered around a range of disparate historical events as well as student-led presentations about issues teenagers care about.

“It’s so important that presentations like Lukas’ happen, and that’s why it’s so important that they come from students, because there’s something really empowering about effecting that kind of a change and that kind of a moment in other people’s lives,” James said. “I want students to experience that.”

Through his presentation, Gates aimed to combat the often poor representation of transgender individuals in the media, he said.

“Even with all the people coming out recently, a lot of people still don’t really know what an actual trans person goes through because we kind of separate celebrities and real people,” Gates said. “That’s not a true representation of what it’s like for most trans people. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A lot of trans people live in poverty, a lot of trans people are kicked out [of their homes] and a lot of trans people aren’t accepted.”

In light of this, Gates’s presentation emphasized that transgender and gender-nonconforming people experience increased discrimination and threats to their personal safety as well as higher suicide rates. Forty-one percent of surveyed transgender individuals in a national survey have previously attempted suicide while only 1.6 percent of the general population has done the same, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported.

“We don’t really hear about suicide rates much, but I think the number is just so astounding,” Gates said. “It’s also important because you don’t want those suicide rates to be so high. You want cisgender people to make transgender people feel comfortable.”

Some students admitted that they weren’t very informed about the transgender community prior to the presentation.

“I knew a little bit about it, but I didn’t really know all the issues that [transgender people] were facing and all the modern struggles that they still have, so I wasn’t really that well educated on it, ” freshman Hisham Shami said. “After the presentation, it really helped me understand what the whole movement is and how they’re going about it.”

This, Gates said, was the outcome he had hoped for.

“I wanted to start a conversation, with freshman especially, about what it’s like to be trans because I felt like not many people really knew,” Gates said. “The overarching purpose was to help kids understand what trans people deal with, and I think by showing them that poem and by talking about it together, people understood the emotions behind what it is to be trans and what it is like to identify as trans.”