BY PASCALE MONTGOMERY
Sophomore Kylie Yeatman identifies as transgender, but her transition was not a simple and easy path. She had always felt different, but she did not know how to draw any conclusions about her identity until her eighth-grade year. After coming to terms with the fact that she is transgender, Yeatman began to talk with a gender specialist that she was referred to by her doctor to make sure her feelings were legitimate.
The counseling Yeatman received was not at all conversion therapy to diminish her self-discovery, but a foundation of support to make sure she was making the right decision and to help her deal with emotions or difficulties during transition.
“During the first two years of transition, my emotions changed very rapidly,” Yeatman says. “This was challenging on my family.”
With the help of her gender specialist, Kylie was able to receive the guidance she needed to transition and fully embrace her individuality and identity. When she started her freshman year at CHS, she felt welcomed.
Nevertheless, she still faced challenges.
“There are a lot of people on campus who still have negative thoughts towards people like me,” Yeatman says. “I think about it in the back of my mind, even if those people have never had any effect on me.”
Along with the intellectual challenges of school, many students struggle to come to terms with and understand their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the 2016-17 Healthy Kids survey, 19 percent of CHS students identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. (This does take into account the fact that students are given the option to select more than one identification.)
CHS freshman Skye Burttschell says he realized he was gay when he was in fourth grade, but did not come out until the end of his eighth grade year. His parents were a little wary when he first came out, but they are supportive and accepting of him now.
“Coming out to my parents was definitely difficult,” Burttschell reflects. “My mom started crying, but it got better after a while.”
According to local LGBT counselor and family therapist Leana Shapiro-Lee, her job is crucial in providing a safe place for her young adult clients in particular, especially when they are having difficulties coming out to their family.
“The job of a therapist, no matter the individual, is to act as a sounding board to validate their emotions and to test any irrational thought against reality,” says Shapiro-Lee, who also reflects on her clients’ internalized feelings of guilt as a result of their identity.
Highlighting the stress of coming out, Shapiro-Lee explains that the experience is a crucial component of gaining clarity, yet the specialist also adds that there are other ways to discover a supportive community.
“Now with the internet, we can have almost instant access to an accepting community,” Shapiro-Lee says.
Many LGBT students express positive feelings regarding the school’s attitude toward its diverse student body—Burttschell elaborates that he is never bullied at CHS, making it the most accepting school he’s attended.
In addition to having an accepting array of teachers, the on-campus Diversity Club is dedicated to creating a safe atmosphere for marginalized groups and hosting school events to show the high school’s support for its LGBT students. In late 2017, the club organized “Rainbow Week,” an event created to show their support for LGBT students.
“Rainbow week was mainly in response to an incident last year where a student identifying as LGBT was being threatened,” says senior Amber Hobbs, who has been vice president of the Diversity Club for two years. “As a club, we were very sad to hear about the threat, so we responded to show our support.”
Senior Kaia Daigle, who identifies as pansexual, explains that when she entered the Carmel Unified School District in eighth grade, she started to get acquainted with the idea that she did not necessarily have to date only guys or only girls.
“I always felt more comfortable around girls,” Daigle says. “When my friend showed me Korean pop music December of sophomore year, that was a huge turning point in everything. I was like…yeah, I’m not straight.”
In addition to her friends and teachers, Daigle’s mother and friends have been accepting of her identity. Daigle explains that one of the most common issues faced by LGBT students at school is repeated jokes made at their expense.
“I could make gay jokes ‘till the cows come home, but if you are not a part of it, I don’t think you should joke about it,” Daigle says.
Some students do not know exactly how they identify or who they like until their final years of high school. Senior Sean Crawford, for example, did not know he was interested in dating boys until six months ago.
“After dating a girl over the summer, I realized it was not my thing at all,” Crawford says. “When I approached my dad about it, he was like, ‘You will probably find a girl someday,’ and I told him that I just was not interested. He politely smiled and was very sweet about it.”
Crawford notes that his overall experience at Carmel High has been positive and that his family has been extremely supportive and accepting of him.
With the help of CHS and her friends and family, Yeatman has been able to excel in her studies, pursue her passion for baking and discover her love for Japanese, taking night courses at Monterey Peninsula College.
For students who are questioning their identity or sexual orientation, or who just want to be supportive of the LGBT community, the CHS Diversity Club meets every Friday in Room 6.