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.
'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.