‘LGBTQ 101’ Workshop at Stafford Library Goes Beyond Basics to Heart of Matter

By VICTORIA FORD | Mar 27, 2019
Photo by: Victoria Ford

Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Queer. Questioning. Intersex. Asexual. Ally. Pansexual. These terms are among the most up to date and accepted SOGIE language, i.e., Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression.

They took the form of an acronym, LGBTQIAAP, on a flatscreen at the Stafford branch of Ocean County Library on Wednesday, March 20, where Garden State Equality’s Safe Schools Coordinator Ashley Chiappano led a workshop called “LGBTQ 101” for parents, professionals and teens.

The second in a series of four LGBTQ 101 workshops at library locations throughout the county, Stafford’s began with a word of warning, in light of a hate speech incident that had occurred during the previous week’s event in Brick, wherein a non-participant entered the library and denounced the workshop, Chiappano said. (Thankfully, no such incident occurred at the Stafford Library.)

For starters, the concept of gender refers to beliefs, expectations and assumptions, all of which are culturally and historically contingent, about what it means to be either a man or a woman.

In human social evolution, the time has come to understand the conversation surrounding gender as a spectrum – not merely a binary, one-or-the-other proposition.

Gender identity is one’s “deeply felt psychological identification as male, female, or non-binary,” according to definitions set forth in Garden State Equality’s Teach and Affirm Project. Non-binary means having or expressing (by way of external characteristics and behaviors socially defined as masculine or feminine, e.g. attire, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions) a gender identity that is not entirely male or female. Transgender may apply to anyone whose biological sex assigned at birth does not align with their gender identity, regardless of any medical (puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone therapy) or surgical measures taken.

All people have a gender identity, not just those who identify as transgender, according to GSE. The adjective “cisgender” applies to a person whose sex assigned at birth and gender identity unquestioningly align.

Gender identity does not dictate sexual orientation, which deals with romantic, physical, sexual or emotional attraction.

Chiappano said to think of it this way: Sexual orientation is “who you want to live your life with,” and gender identity is “who you want to live your life as.” Gender expression is “how you show the world who you are.” The numerous combinations are part of the larger concept of intersectionality, or the various components that make up an individual’s whole identity.

Lesbian refers to a woman who is attracted only to other women. Gay can refer to men who are attracted to men, and it can also be used as an umbrella term to refer to the LGBTQ community as a whole.

Sexual orientation, too, is a spectrum. Bisexual can describe attraction to both males and females, not necessarily equally.

Queer, sometimes genderqueer, is another umbrella term for individuals who do not identify strictly as heterosexual/straight, as well as for those with a non-normative gender identity – perhaps one that society has not yet defined. But not everyone embraces the word queer, due to its historical use as a slur.

In Chiappano’s experience, middle schoolers use the word queer freely, in addition to new and ever-changing terms not yet added to the standard list, including gender fluid, gender nonconforming, bi-gender, third-gender, pan-gender, genderless, a-gender, androgynous and, simply, other.

Questioning is somewhat self-explanatory, but Chiappano clarified, “It’s not just a pre-teen thing.” Sexuality evolves over a lifetime, and at any age a person may question or explore sexual orientation and gender identity.

The outdated term “hermaphrodite” is considered derogatory and has been replaced by the word “intersex.” There are 1,500 known intersex conditions, Chiappano said, spanning any number of chromosomal or anatomical differentiations from the typical or expected arrangement of female and male reproductive organs. Percentage-wise, the frequency of intersex conditions is hard to pin down, due to a lack of total agreement on what constitutes “atypical,” but experts agree it’s somewhere between 1 in 1,500 and 1 in 2,000 births – about as common as having red hair or green eyes. “But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life,” according to the Intersex Society of North America.

Ally (or accomplice, or advocate) is an identifier generally for a straight and/or cisgender person who supports and respects members of the LGBTQ community.

Asexual may apply to a person who feels no desire for, or attraction toward, any group of people.

Inversely, pansexual refers to someone whose attraction to others is not dictated by, or limited to, any particular gender identity or given set of body parts. Those who identify as pan might say they “love the person, not the label.”

Or, as a ninth-grader who identifies as pansexual once told Chiappano: “I don’t like that the world tells me I’m heterosexual until I’m not.”

Schools and states, including New Jersey, are catching up. In September 2018, the New Jersey Board of Education sent out transgender guidance for districts to implement, along the lines of definitions, to promote understanding and respect; a student-centered approach; creating a safe and supportive environment (updating policies about dress codes, etc.); confidentiality and privacy; school record-keeping; activities; and the use of facilities, meaning everyone is allowed to use any space they feel reflects their gender identity, including restrooms and locker rooms.

In January 2019, the state adopted the LGBTQ Inclusive Curriculum law, to go into effect for the 2020-21 school year, which mandates local boards of education to adopt instructional materials that reflect the contributions of LGBTQ people and individuals with disabilities and that all curriculum be LGBTQ-inclusive. The Babs Siperstein Law creates a third gender option on new birth certificates and allows trans and non-binary New Jerseyans to change the gender on their birth certificates without the previous “proof of surgery” requirement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not federally protect citizens on the basis of SOGIE, Chiappano said, leaving it up to individual states to enact laws against discrimination; 22 states have. New Jersey’s LAD prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, business and financial transactions and housing and real estate, as well as bias-based harassment, intimidation and bullying.

While the Marriage Equality Act of 2015 was landmark legislation, Chiappano said, “Marriage equality is not full equality, and we have a lot of work to do.”

In the meantime, the Garden State Equality website offers a “Map and Expand” list of gender identity-affirming healthcare providers, so LGBTQ patients of any age can visit doctors who are understanding and sensitive to their needs. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick are two that come highly recommended.

According to the GSE literature, “Psychiatrists and psychologists have identified three stages at which children are most likely to ‘come out’ as transgender: between 2 and 4, 9 and 10, and 13 and 14. But people can come out at any age.”

Those who are misinformed or uneducated on the subject may mistakenly believe children are undergoing operations or that parents are “allowing” their kids to be transgender, Chiappano said. Those in the know maintain gender identity is not a lifestyle choice. It’s a profound personal journey – and one that doesn’t always end happily.

Statistics show LGBT youth are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, homelessness and suicide, Chiappano said. Forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, with family rejection or abandonment the top reason cited for their homelessness. And 40 percent of trans adults report having attempted suicide, almost all before the age of 25.

The takeaway from GSE is: Affirm. At every level – at home, in school, in business, from government and from society – affirmation is essential for LGBTQ people to overcome mental health hurdles and to lead fulfilling and productive lives, free from the fear of persecution and violence.

Two more 101 workshops are coming up: Thursday, April 4, at the Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library, and Tuesday, April 9, at the Jackson branch, both at 6:30 p.m.

To learn more or to request a training workshop in a classroom or workplace, visit gardenstateequality.org.

— Victoria Ford


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