tv NBC Bay Area We Investigate NBC October 19, 2019 6:30pm-7:00pm PDT
reflect who they really are. >> i'm really really happy. >> how young is too young for kids to begin transforming their lives? >> i personally feel it would be malpractice to withhold that kind of treatment. >> the brightest medical minds art odds. >> this idea that if i behave like a girl therefore i am a girl. well, that's not necessarily true. >> the growing debate. and a mother's fear. >> i would rather have a trans daughter than a dead son. >> educators are now seeing an increase in the number of students identifying as transgender. >> every single school. >> but are teachers prepared? >> i think it is something we do need to be taught. >> our two-year investigation exposed a serious lack of training for educators. >> your school district wasn't providing training for teachers. >> that's correct. >> new policies are now in place and top school officials credit our investigation. >> your reporting has shown that
raising awareness can change behavior. >> it did give me pause. you know what? we need to do more. >> our reporting leads to major reforms and a new law impacting more than 3 million students across california. here is our senior investigative reporter. >> the number of school children who openly identify as transgender is expected to rise in part because of new medical guidelines that allow trans kids to begin physically transforming their bodies at younger ages. we spent the past two years collecting data and reviewing policies from the largest school districts across the bay area. to find out if educators are now adapting to a changing student body. >> kind of terrified but the most excited ever in my entire life. >> this 12-year-old was born a girl named sophia but today is taking a major step toward becoming a boy named jack. >> i'm going to be right here. >> the sixth grader is about to have a tiny medical device implanted in his left arm.
jack's dad and mom are at his side. >> oh, geez. >> it's just in your head. jack, relax. >> just going to put more numbing to make sure it's all numb okay? >> the implant stops female puberty and will keep jack from growing breasts. >> there you go. >> it was three years ago when sophia cut off all of her hair and decided she was really a he. what would you say to people who think kids are just too young to make this kind of decision? >> sure. i'm a kid but that doesn't take a genius to realize that i'm not a girl. >> an estimated 1.4 million adults in the u.s. identify as trans. 150,000 teens. but figures for younger children are largely unknown. here in the bay area there are at least six clinics for trans kids. ucsf serves about 800 children at its three clinics.
stanford sees 300 kids. kaiser permanente wouldn't tell us how many patients it sees at its two centers. we do know there are more than a thousand trans children served at the other four clinics. some kids started therapy at 3 years old to transition socially. which means changing their names and wardrobes to match the gender they choose. >> as young as 3. >> as young as 3. >> this pediatrician steve rosenthal has treated hundreds of trans kids. >> hi. >> how are you? >> as head of gender center at ucsf children's hospital. >> we watch these kids sort of reappear, almost be reborn with the body that matches their gender identity. >> clinical guidelines for how to treat trans kids haven't been updated in roughly a decade but rosenthal, and an international team of doctors, have released a new medical framework that for the first time favors early social transition. and allows hormone therapy for
kids under 16. >> this could impact children worldwide. >> yes. >> i personally feel it would be malpractice to withhold that kind of treatment. >> major institutions and medical groups help write the guidelines including columbia university. uc san francisco and the american association of clinical endocrinologists. our investigative unit was briefed on the new guidelines months ahead of release. >> i don't feel like being a girl is who i am. >> reporter: before jack started his transition he says he couldn't even stand his own reflection. >> when you look in this mirror now what do you see? >> me. i see me. >> i used to have a girl. now i have a boy. >> juliana is jack's mother. >> reporter: what do you see when you look at old photos of jack? >> that's hard. yeah. i think that is a little -- i think the hardest part for me. >> reporter: as his mom, do you have doubts? >> i do. i do.
but i can only do what i know right now is the right thing to do. >> reporter: still, juliana and even leading doctors worry medicine that blocks puberty can also weaken bones and might cause other unknown side effects. >> i think it is putting a lot on the shoulders of these children. >> reporter: this pediatrician heads the center for genetic medicine research in washington, d.c. he is the former chief of medical genetics at ucla. >> you think far more children are transitioning now than maybe should? >> that is correct. children say a lot of things. this idea that if i behave like a girl therefore i am a girl. that is not necessarily true. >> is telling a child to wait to transition sort of the modern day version of telling a gay person it is just a phase? >> i don't think so. people are telling me that these boys who behave like girls are in fact girls inside.
i'm saying well where is the girl? is there a brain difference? are there genes different? i still haven't seen that. >> while scientists and doctors continue to battle over the issue schools and educators have been left on the front lines often with little or no training on how to navigate what some view as dangerous territory. two years ago our investigative unit began collecting and analyzing data from the 20 largest school districts across all nine counties of the bay area. we discovered more than 105,000 students attended schools that failed to educate teachers on transgender issues. in reviewing school policy for all 20 districts we learned that complete lack of training extended across five school districts. only livermore agreed to an interview. >> it is new to us and i will be the first one to say this is an area in which i am not an expert. >> chris van shack is deputy superintendent.
when he spoke with us two years ago he said teachers rely on school principals who are trained each year to support trans students enrolled throughout the district. >> gender biasses and pronoun usage and things are things we need to become more comfortable with. >> should that be taken as a sign the district is in need of more education? >> yeah. i mean, i wouldn't -- if you asked me that question about anything is the district in need of more training on anything i would say yes. i do think it is necessary i would say we haven't done that yet. >> do you think that is something you might consider in the future? >> absolutely yes. >> there you go. >> back at the hospital jack's life is about to change. >> went really well. >> soon after jack does start to feel something. >> i'm really, really happy. >> the effects of the implant are largely reversible but for now jack is saying good-bye to sophia. >> bye-bye. bye-bye estrogen. >> there it goes.
maya: i just really am more of a water person. it's fun and it's powerful. it can bring life, it can destroy. it's my island. meghan: she is a happy, energetic, "life is all good" kind of girl. maya: this is mainly earth and water. meghan: will she find love in her life? will she have relationships? you know, i think i probably think that of all my children
but what worries me about maya's future is her not being accepted as a transgender person. bigad: how would you describe yourself? maya: as a girl. bigad: have you ever felt like a boy? maya: no. well, not that i can remember. bigad: eight-year-old maya was born brody but began identifying as a girl at just four. bigad: and how does being a girl make you feel? maya: normal. how does it feel to be a boy? bigad: [laughing] it just feels normal to you? maya: uh-hm. bigad: meghan eber-trainor is maya's mother. bigad: when was the first time your son told you that he was really a she? meghan: so i was tucking maya into bed and she said, "mommy,
why did god make me a boy when i'm really a girl?" and no parent is prepared for that. i was, like, "oh, no. where is my husband? what do i say?" bigad: she was just four when she said this? meghan: yes, yeah, yeah. i mean, when a child does not align with their, you know, genitals, you know, you just--i don't have that experience. bigad: did part of you ever think, "maybe maya is just confused?" meghan: starting at the age of three, she was always in dresses and we didn't know being transgender was an option. i didn't even know the word existed. but it started to explain what we had been seeing for a year and a half. so, was it a phase? no, because all of a sudden we were getting clarity about what we had been seeing. bigad: the medical community still largely believes not enough is known about which children should transition and when. bigad: so that's about to change with your study? kristina: we hope so. bigad: dr. kristina olson is overseeing
first-of-its-kind research. she's studying 300 trans kids from around the country and tracking them for 20 years. it was here at her seattle clinic more than two years ago where we first met maya. kristina: do you feel like you're a little bit a boy? maya: a small bit in between. kristina: okay. bigad: what do you hope to learn from all this? kristina: information that parents and teachers and pediatricians can use to make informed decisions about what's in the best interest of young transgender and gender non-conforming kids. bigad: other studies have shown trans people are nearly ten times more likely to commit suicide. but three years into olsen's study, she found kids who were allowed to transition socially aren't any more depressed than non-trans kids. kristina: kids are really doing remarkably well after they've done this social transition. bigad: while maya used to be brody, she legally changed her name at just seven years old. bigad: is bry? maya: no one.
bigad: doesn't exist anymore? bigad: who's maya? maya: me. maya: no, wrong way. girls, wrong way. i'm facing this way. you're just supposed to go-- bigad: today, maya appears just as confident. bigad: what's changed since then? maya: let's see. i know more. what else is there? i'm taller. bigad: you're taller. maya: i have bangs now. they're kind of annoying. bigad: do ill stel happy with who you are? maya: yeah. bigad: what does it mean to be happy with who you are? maya: it means being me. female: stop, you're bumping into maya. bigad: but maya's mother realizes the journey ahead will be difficult. meghan: our next big thing will be puberty. bigad: does maya understand what puberty will mean for her? meghan: yeah, she does.
to her, it's daddy's height, it's daddy's hairy face, it's daddy's hairy body. bigad: that all scares her? meghan: yes, oh yeah, she wants nothing to do with it. so i think she lives at peace right now, knowing that there is a solution to that. maya: i get two. bigad: maya has already told her family she wants to receive a medical implant that stops puberty by blocking hormones. bigad: what would these blockers do? what are you hoping to do? maya: be a girl forever. maya: mama, does it hurt to get the blocker put in? meghan: i believe they numb it so, no. but you have--there's a little poke for the needle to numb. maya: ow. meghan: just a little poke. and then they implant it and that part doesn't hurt because you're numb already. maya: so i can't feel? meghan: uh-uh, uh-uh. but we'll hold your hand and we'll move through it. maya: okay. meghan: okay.
bigad: coming up, how one student managed to push educators ahead of the pack. cal: teachers didn't have any training on how to deal with trans people. bigad: plus the new lesson plan designed for teachers. joel baum: i know i'm gonna say the wrong thing. anyone ever had that experience? there are those who will say thatoo fat.: too skinny. too hard. too soft.
too old. too much. too unexpected. too limited. and to them we say too bad. because at kaiser permanente, we believe that everyone deserves the right to thrive. journeys but running was one way to fit in. cal: cross country was one of the only sports that the girls and the boys practice at the same time and it--that was the same season. bigad: cal is transgender and identifies as a mix of male and female but didn't know how to tell friends or teachers in high school. bigad: you felt alone? cal: yeah, i felt alone. i felt scared. i felt i was in a really dark place. i would just cut myself under the desk because, as weird as it sounds, cutting gave me a sense of control. bigad: what made it so challenging?
cal: a lot of times, teachers didn't know how to treat me respectfully. like, "oh man, are you gonna, you know, change your genitals?" that's not something you ask a high schooler. bigad: so as a student, you felt like you had to educate your educators? cal: there was no training. teachers didn't have any training on how to deal with trans people. when you don't really have anyone at school respecting and reassuring a really basic part of who you are, it's horrible. bigad: our ongoing investigation reveals a wide disparity in the type and frequency of teacher training on transgender issues. we've learned some schools only offer online videos while others hold large-scale seminars. and depending where you're teaching in the bay area, the training can be mandatory, voluntary or non-existent. in fact, at cupertino union and vacaville unified,
training was only offered last year if a transgender student was known to be enrolled at school. critics say that's problematic since not all trans students publicly identify as transgender. joel: by giving kids the language and by giving educators the language to understand the diversity of gender, it creates better conditions for our trans kids but it also creates better conditions for every kid. bigad: joel baum has traveled the country over the past decade, teaching close to 30,000 educators about gender. joel: i know i'm gonna say the wrong thing. anyone ever had that experience? bigad: he's a former teacher in the bay area and lead instructor with the group, gender spectrum. joel: you would think that the only young people that have gender are trans. and apparently, they spend a lot of time going to the bathroom. like, that's apparently what we wanna talk about a lot. bigad: his session shed light on an evolving issue. female: gender identity, biological sex, gender-- bigad: from vocabulary-- female: mtf, ftm-- and probably much more.
bigad: --to stereotypes. joel: which color is the boy color? bigad: the teacher training here at fremont unified is a first for the district and it's in part thanks to cal who spent high school advocating for it. cal: i was bullied in elementary school, called a he-she by peers, and harassed in bathrooms from the time i was very, very young. bigad: what's at stake here? bigad: dr. kim wallace is the district superintendent and started the new training. bigad: is there a danger on just staying silent on the issue? kim wallace: i think there's always a danger in staying silent. i really do stand by my belief that we are an educational institution and what we're doing is we're educating people about an issue that hasn't really been talked about. bigad: even as cal packs for college, the 18-year-old is still trying to unpack the emotional baggage of high school. cal says educators need to stop running away and join others in moving forward with more training. cal: all it really takes is a couple of people in your life to say, "we got you," to not feel so alone.
bigad: still ahead. laurie: i wanna know what you're thinking. bigad: one teacher's takeaway and the lesson she wants all educators to learn. laurie: i think it's something that we do need to be taught. bigad: plus, our investigation leads to major reforms. bigad: it had an impact for you and your team? chris van schaack: yeah, yeah, and it was one of those things where it's just, "we need to think about this."
bigad: laurie weckesser has been teaching high school english-- laurie: really paying attention to our writing. bigad: --for 26 years. laurie: i think this is a really important topic. bigad: but today, she's the student. female: gender is separate from sexual orientation. laurie: there were some things in that training that i didn't even know. bigad: weckesser is one of about 1100 teachers at the east side union high school district in san josé undergoing mandatory training on gender issues for the first time. female: and we're gonna talk a little bit about lgbtq
language and some of the things that you may be learning or hearing and--in your classrooms. bigad: have you had students who identify as trans? urie: yeah, i have a student right now, as a matter of fact. i was the first adult ever that this particular child shared that they feel transgender. that's not the first time that's happened to me. bigad: school social workers are leading these trainings throughout the district. female: i always support kids in their journey but we don't know if it's safe for them to be out and so we never wanna make that assumption. bigad: the training tackles real-life scenarios. male: we, to this day, still have youth who are up front with us and say, "hey, like, i just switched schools because i'm trans and i was getting bullied at my other school." bigad: teachers also learn that some trans students prefer plural pronouns like "they" or "them," rather than "he" or "she." female: this is tricky and i know english teachers are probably cringing. chris funk: all we're trying to do is create an environment where all kids are welcome. that's it.
bigad: superintendent chris funk implemented the new training. two years ago, our investigation revealed his district, east side union, was among the largest in the bay area that failed to offer any gender training to educators. bigad: your school district wasn't providing training for teachers. chris funk: that's correct. bigad: why the change? chris funk: you know, we're just getting caught up in times. we were slow to respond and when there are society norms that need to be challenged, i think education is the place to challenge. bigad: last year, we again surveyed schools across the bay area at the 20 largest school districts. we discovered only five districts required gender training for all of their teachers. that's just 25% of districts. and even when it is offered, we learned training varies widely. courses for educators range from just 19 minutes to 16 hours. and remember, our reporting revealed that two years ago five of the largest school districts in the bay area, home to more than 105,000 students,
didn't offer teachers any gender training at all. after we aired that report, four school districts changed their policies to begin training teachers. the reforms are now impacting 90,000 students at 102 schools. chris van schaack: lots of communities and lots of districts who have the "i don't wanna see it." and--but we are not that community and we are not that district. bigad: chris van schaack is assistant superintendent at the livermore district. when we first spoke with him two years ago, his schools were not providing teachers with gender training. but now, his district is offering online education to its 650 teachers. bigad: why the change? chris van schaack: the conversation that you and i had. it did give me pause. hm, you know what? we need to do more. there certainly are students at every school in our district who identify themselves as transgender. bigad: the kinds of policy changes we've seen in the bay area are now expanding statewide.
male: ab 493. bigad: following our investigation, california lawmakers took action. male: all members vote. ayes 49, no 0. bigad: the legislature appve new reforms that aim to educate teachers about gender and sexuality. governor gavin newsom just signed the bill into law last week, which requires the california department of education to create a standardized training program for all middle and high school teachers across the state. the curriculum will focus on lgbtq issues and must be in place by july 2021. the new training program could impact 130,000 teachers, 2600 schools, and more than 3 million students. tony: your reporting has shown that raising awareness can change behavior. bigad: tony thurmond is california's most influential person in education. he's the state superintendent and co-sponsored the bill.
bigad: for those parents who think, "this just isn't something we should be talking to teachers about," what do you say to that? tony: when i read that there's a higher rate of suicide for students who identify as lgbtq, i knew that this was the right thing to do. if this can save a life, then we should do it. i understand that it may not be popular. i understand that it may even be controversial but, as educators, we have a responsibility to do all that we can to support the wellbeing of our students. bigad: this was thurmond's second attempt to expand training for educators. last year, as a state lawmaker in the assembly, he pushed a similar bill that passed in the legislature. but then-governor jerry brown vetoed the plan, saying in part, "if local schools find that more training or resources on this topic is needed, they have the flexibility to use their resources as they see best." chris van schaack: you know, i think that's dangerous. bigad: dangerous? chris van schaack: yeah, we need to be aware
of the challenges of all students. and if this is the challenge that some of our students face, even a small subset of those students, we need to be aware of and we need to be responsive to that. bigad: laurie weckesser says it's a crucial lesson worth learning. bigad: what's at stake here? laurie: well, everything. their life is at stake. we're seeing more and more kids be comfortable with coming into the classroom and saying, "this is who i am. this is who i wanna be. this is how i want you to see me," and teachers need to know how to react to that. bigad: which brings us back to jack. female: do you wanna see it? jack: yeah. bigad: it's been more than two years since a medical implant began pausing his puberty. female: it went really well. it's in there and you know what? it's working right now. bigad: doctors recommend kids get off puberty blockers by the time they turn 14, which means jack will soon have to decide whether to start taking testosterone to blend in as a boy or get off the drugs to restart puberty as a girl. jack: why would i ever wanna go back into that shell?
'cause i know deep down inside, i am a boy. and i know i won't change my mind because being a boy is the best thing that's ever happened to me. like, why would i ever wanna be a girl again? 'cause i know that's not me. bigad: our investigation doesn't end here. we have a lot more for you on our website. we've included extended interviews and an interactive tool you can use to find out information about schools in your neighborhood. there you can easily learn which districts offer teacher training and which aren't providing any education at all. that's at nbcbayarea.com/investigations. and from all of us here at the investigative unit, thanks for watching. we invite you right back here every night where we investigate. ♪