A local coalition dedicated to equality and inclusion is inviting the community to learn more about transgender individuals and their life experience in an upcoming seminar.

“Transgender 101” is being offered from 5:30 to 8 p.m. April 25 at the Columbus North High School cafeteria, presented by the Inclusive Community Coalition and multiple co-sponsors in the Columbus community.

Becky Waletich, a licensed therapist specializing in gender variance and a member of the World Professional Alliance for Transgender Health, is the guest speaker.

Sondra Bolte, a member of the Inclusive Community Coalition, said “Transgender 101” is one of a continuing series of presentations planned as a result of community interest.

In this particular case, members of the coalition said the impetus is the backlash Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. experienced after it proposed changing wording in a policy that added gender identity to a list of protected classes within the school system.

In May 2016, the BCSC school board voted to include the change after a series of meetings in which a group of parents alleged there would be risks to female students if biological males who identified as females were allowed to use girls’ restrooms. Some parents who objected to the change said male students who chose to identify as girls would do so to enter female restrooms to leer at or sexually harass female students.

The added language came at the same time the U.S. Education and Justice departments handed down a directive advising all public schools to allow transgender students to use restroom and locker room facilities aligning with their gender identity, saying those that didn’t risked losing federal funding, further igniting local controversy about the issue.

BCSC board members voted in 2013 to include transgender status as a protected class in the school system, and said adding gender identity as a change to the wording was meant as a way to keep up with current terminology used to discuss LGBT issues.

“It got people’s attention — the whole bathroom issue,” Bolte said of BCSC’s hearings on the wording change. “It caused a lot of uproar. Some of us (members of the coalition) started going to school board meetings just to hear what people were saying.”

As they listened, it occurred to them that many of the individuals who were speaking did not understand what transgender was, she said.

“Until recently, transgender wasn’t in the public purview,” Bolte said. “Now it kind of is. It became even more so with Chaz Bono (born Chastity Bono) and Bruce Jenner (who transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner). More people are aware of it.”

When people aren’t familiar with something, they become afraid of it, Bolte said.

Waletich said the “Transgender 101” presentation focuses on what gender is, and what transgender is, and includes an explanation of what transgender people face in a community.

Her work in counseling individuals who are working through gender issues began when she started in private practice on her own, after leaving a group practice, and finding the sheer number of individuals calling seeking help with gender issues.

“It made me aware there is a need,” Waletich said.

Part of “Transgender 101” is answering questions, something Waletich said she is prepared to do throughout her presentation.

“There are a lot of people in the middle of this issue who really want information,” Bolte said.

If you go

What: “Transgender 101”

When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. April 25

Where: Columbus North High School cafeteria, 1400 25th St.

How much: Free

Speaker: Becky Waletich, a licensed therapist specializing in gender variance and a member of the World Professional Alliance for Transgender Health

Also: Light refreshments served at 5:30 p.m. followed by the program from 6 to 8 p.m.

Presented by: Inclusive Community Coalition

Co-sponsored by: Pride Alliance, IUPUC Division of Women’s Studies, Open and Affirming Committee at First Presbyterian Church, Cummins Pride Affinity Group, Columbus Peace Fellowship, Indivisible, Showing Up for Racial Justice, North Christian Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, IUPUC Office of the Vice Chancellor and Dean, Columbus Human Rights Commission

Partially funded by: The Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.