Education

'A new life.' How 2 transgender grads will help other LGBTQ students in Lexington.

Transgender Lafayette High School graduate shares her transition story

Crystal Hahn, a 2018 graduate from Lafayette High School, shares her story on transitioning from male to female with the help and support from her family and school.
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Crystal Hahn, a 2018 graduate from Lafayette High School, shares her story on transitioning from male to female with the help and support from her family and school.

As Crystal Hahn walked across the stage at Rupp Arena last week, both she and her stepmother saw an achievement far bigger than the Lafayette High School diploma in her hand.

Graduation represented “starting a new life and completing a part of my life that was very hard to go through," she said afterward.

“She’s going to have roadblocks, but graduating from high school has just been wonderful for us," said her stepmother, Jeri Hahn. "On to a new life.”

Crystal Hahn began transitioning from living as a boy to a girl in the fifth grade at a rural Kentucky school, where she says she was bullied by students and treated differently by some teachers. Hoping to find a smoother path and greater acceptance, her family moved to Lexington while she was in middle school.

Her experience in Fayette County Public Schools through middle and high school was much better, said Hahn.

“Seeing Crystal graduate has been wonderful because there’s a 40 percent chance of trans kids trying to commit suicide, so I feel we are hopefully past that stage as she grows into adulthood,” said Jeri Hahn.

Crystal Hahn and another recent graduate, Davey Pezzi, who transitioned from living as a female to a male in his sophomore year at Tates Creek High School, have been invited to be part of a panel of transgender students at a Fayette County teacher training in July led by Lafayette High School social worker Julia Bennington.

They “will be able to share their journeys with the teachers," at the district-wide training, which will also cover issues involving lesbian, gay and bisexual students, Bennington said.

Bennington estimates that there are 300 transgender students in Fayette County high schools. She said there are more than 30 students at Lafayette alone who openly identify as transgender, and there are more whose parents won’t allow them to come out at school. There are also transgender children in Fayette elementary and middle school classrooms, Bennington said.

In Fayette County Schools, Hahn and Pezzi said they didn’t face issues that transgender students in other parts of the country have reported, such as controversies over which bathrooms they should use or uncooperative teachers and administrators.

"Teachers should let students know that they are safe people and their classrooms are safe spaces, meaning that they are not going to tolerate any bullying, harassment or discrimination of any of their students," Bennington said. One recommendation is to place posters or stickers on school walls that explain that the classroom is a safe place. Teachers should use the name that the student chooses, Bennington said.

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Crystal Hahn graduated from Lafayette High School on Thursday in Rupp Arena. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

'It felt like I was living a lie'

Hahn and Pezzi, who also graduated last week, said while they have had struggles, their experiences as transgender students in Fayette County Public Schools were generally good.

But Hahn said that was not always the case when she attended school outside Fayette County. She was still living as a boy at age nine when she approached her stepmother and asked her to take her to the doctor.

She said, “There’s something wrong with me,” Jeri Hahn remembered.

It took Crystal Hahn some time to express what was wrong, but in fifth grade, she said she transitioned to living as a girl after returning from winter break.

After Hahn was bullied by other students, representatives of a national group called TransYouth Family Allies came to her school to speak to everyone from teachers to bus drivers about Hahn’s situation, Jeri Hahn said.

“It was well-received, but Crystal still had one male teacher who would not call her by her (new) name,” said Jeri Hahn.

“He just wouldn’t call me anything. He wouldn’t give me a pronoun. He would say, ‘You,’ or just point,” Crystal said.

In fifth and sixth grade, Geri Hahn said, Crystal only made a social transition, which meant growing her hair longer, legally changing her first name, and changing the pronouns used in reference to her from "he" to "she." She began psychological therapy when she was 11. The medical transition began after that with monthly shots to block male puberty.

When Hahn moved to Lexington and started attending Morton Middle School, school officials knew that she was transgender, but she chose not to tell her classmates that she had lived as a male from birth to age 10.

That ended up bothering her. “It felt like I was living a lie,” she said.

Jeri Hahn said her family specifically looked for a home in Lexington that was assigned to Lafayette because they heard that the high school would be inclusive.

This past school year, students at Lafeyette launched a slogan of “Love Generally,” which emerged the day 1,000 students walked out in March to protest gun violence. It was a take on the school mascot, “The Generals,” and indicated that Lafayette students had love for their fellow students and promoted a non-violent atmosphere.

“Our school district is committed to embracing every student and nurturing their academic and social success,” said Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk. "I have personally seen the welcoming and inclusive culture that the students and staff at Lafayette High School have built. The 'Love Generally' campaign has taken hold and made Lafayette a very special place. We strive to ensure that every student in every school has a positive experience and work daily to celebrate successes and address situations where we fall short of that goal."

Hahn said when she enrolled at Lafayette in the ninth grade, she made sure her friends knew that she was transgender. “All my friends were completely OK with it,” she said. “There was no conflict.”

At 15, she began to take estrogen and started female puberty. The medical transition is continuing for Hahn. Instead of going to college in the fall, she plans to take time off from school and have gender affirmation surgery in San Francisco.

At the beginning of his junior year, Pezzi began his medical transition, which includes taking testosterone. Pezzi said he will take a year off before starting college to have surgery in Cincinnati on his chest.

Jeri Hahn, a nurse, said she is concerned about the medical disparities for transgender kids in Lexingon.

"It's a huge city we live in, a huge university and we only have one (medical) clinic for trans people. There's no clinic for kids younger than 15 and we have to drive all the way to Cincinnati. That's my biggest beef," she said.

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Davey Pezzi walks back to his seat after receiving his diploma during the Tates Creek High School graduation in Rupp Arena on Friday. Silas Walker swalker@herald-leader.com

Schools 'did pretty much everything right'

Jeri Hahn said she thinks Crystal has fared better in her transition than some transgender teens, “because we started so early." She said that kids who don’t start their transition until they are 17 or 18,” might get a lot more bullying, a lot more pushback.”

"Most people think we choose to transition. We don't," Crystal Hahn said. "If I got to choose to be a boy, I would have stayed a boy, I would not wish being a trans on anybody."

"If I could have stayed a girl I would've," said Pezzi. " It's so much easier. Being trans is a very, very hard thing to do."

It helped that Fayette schools "did pretty much everything right for me,” Hahn said. “They never really told me to go to a different restroom, they never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to.”

Hahn said she could use the girl’s bathroom if she wanted or a private restroom at the school, which she preferred.

“I’m not the face of all trans people,” she said, noting that other students might have faced bullying or had more situations that made them uncomfortable.

Bennington said she does training with teachers and administrators on federal justice and education policies regarding transgender students. Transgender students are protected from discrimination, bullying, and harassment under federal and state laws, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality website.

"We should allow students the restroom that they identify with," said Bennington, "and every school handles that differently."

"Making an individually tailored plan is the best practice," she said.

Hahn said one problem that did affect her school life was dating. She said boys were wary of getting to know her. One boy’s mother was fine with Hahn dating her son until she found out that Hahn was born male and had transitioned to female, she said. Pezzi said he would like to date,”but I guess I’m afraid to just because of the social stigma surrounding it."

Both Hahn and Pezzi and their families are members of a support group founded by Jeri Hahn called Trans Parent Lex that now has about 200 members.

Through that group, Jeri Hahn found that some children are afraid to come out as transgender at school and some are home schooled because they are afraid to go to school.

Both Pezzi and Hahn said they failed two freshman classes as they worked through attending high school as transgender students. But their grades gradually improved as they became more comfortable.

Pezzi said when he was younger he remembers thinking, "I want to be a boy. I wish I was a boy” but he did not began questioning his gender assignment until eighth grade when he was at Tates Creek Middle School. Pezzi did not legally change his name until his sophomore year at Tates Creek High School, when he transitioned socially from female to male.

"I think it was easier to socially transition because my friends were really helpful," Pezzi said.

School staff at Tates Creek High at the time, Pezzi said, were "helpful but ambivalent overall" with not much discussion of his transition.

Helping teachers talk to students

Bennington said some teachers appear ambivalent to LGBTQ students because they haven't had training and they don't want to say something wrong or offensive "so they choose not to say anything at all."

"We want to educate our teachers on not staying silent, but knowing the correct terminology to use and how to talk with these students, so these students feel that they are supported and feel that they are safe at school," she said.

Pezzi said his school counselor, one teacher especially, and his parents were extremely supportive. Hahn said she and Pezzi were luckier than some other transgender teens because their parents went to great lengths to help them.

Bennington said sometimes teachers and families don't support transgender children because they lack education and think transgender students are just going through a phase.

"It makes the kids feel like what they are feeling is not genuine and not true. That can cause a lot of transgender students to have higher incidents of depression, anxiety , suicidal ideation, addiction, have failing grades... because they can't focus in school when they are feeling unsupported, ... and attendance issues because sometimes they fear coming to school,” said Bennington.

She said transgender students fear being ridiculed. "They've got all these barriers that work against them."

Bennigton said that each school year, there are a different number of Gay Straight Alliance groups at Lexington high schools because some years, teachers at a given school don't want to be a faculty advisor. Lafayette, Dunbar, Henry Clay, and Bryan Station high schools all have a Gay-Straight Alliance Group. Tates Creek and Frederick Douglass high schools do not. Tates Creek Middle and Winburn Middle schools also have a Gay-Straight Alliance, Bennington said.

Hahn and Pezzi said their classmates may have been more open-minded in 2018, but some didn’t appear to be much more educated about transgender issues than students of the past. If Fayette County Public Schools could do more for transgender students, they said, it would be to have more instruction for staff on transgender issues, more visible or intentional efforts to help transgender students and more discussion of transgender issues in health courses or sex education classes.

Bennington said some parents do not allow their transgender children to attend Gay Straight Alliance meetings.

Bennington said that some parents tell their children, "Your name is Robin, it is not Sam and you will not do that at school. "

"They are not even allowed to talk about it," she said.

"We want to respect the child's wishes, but we also have to keep the parent's wishes in mind if they are minor children," Bennington said.

"My role is to be as best of a support as I can for them so when they are at school they are safe, they feel included ..... so they can be successful at school."

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