A few weeks back, parents of students at a Madison elementary school received an unusual note, about a student in the fifth grade who "while born male, has for some time felt he is female." The student, with support from family, doctors and the school community, was about to start being a girl.
Such issues are all in a day's work for Bonnie Augusta, the Madison school district's gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning resource teacher. She met with students at this school (parents were welcome to attend) and, according to a subsequent note, "discussed the student and the transition she is doing." One goal was to minimize the teasing this student might endure.
"The class was very respectful and asked wonderful questions," Augusta wrote, adding that "all of you can be very proud of your children today."
Augusta has been helping GLBTQ students in Madison since the fall of 2001. She knows of just six school districts in the nation that employ someone solely for this purpose.
She won't say how often students switch gender identification or whether any undergo sex-change surgery (which wouldn't happen until the child is older). The most common issue is "gender expression," for which schools make accommodations like bathroom use and gym class.
"There's a lot of different options," says Augusta, who mentions unisex bathrooms and those in nurses' rooms. "Talk about a basic right - to be able to go to the bathroom in the school you're attending."
But the biggest issue is ensuring that GLBTQ students are not harassed. "We have to do everything in our power to make that happen," says Augusta. "As educators in the public schools, that is our obligation."