Regional School Unit 21, serving students in Arundel, Kennebunk, and Kennebunkport, celebrated Transgender Awareness Week November 13th through the 19th in 2019, along with others around the nation, by promoting and participating in activities that raise the visibility of transgender people. Kennebunk High School’s (KHS) Gay Straight Transgender Alliance (GSTA), RSU 21, supported by co-advisors Lisa McLellan and Jesse Wakeman, organized the activities for the week.
For this year’s activities, one of the GSTA students had an out of the box idea that would have the potential to really get people to take note of the importance of transgender awareness. An athlete and transgender themselves, the student noticed that Schuyler Bailar, an idol of theirs best known as the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer, was going to be in the area around the same time as Transgender Awareness Week. “I thought his conversation would be applicable to things that I have faced and that people in our district have faced,” said the student. Taking a leap of faith, they tried to connect with Schuyler to ask if he was available and willing to come to Kennebunk High School as a guest speaker. “I really didn’t expect that he would be able to come,” the student recalled.
With a little luck and some impeccable timing, Schuyler was available and willing to come. GSTA Advisor Lisa McLellan got the news from the student over the weekend and quickly worked with KHS Principal Susan Cressey and RSU 21 Superintendent Phillip Potenziano, to secure funding, rearrange schedules, and iron out other details to make this very important event possible in time for Transgender Awareness Week.
Schuyler ended up coming the Friday of Transgender Awareness Week, during a time that was available to all students for a voluntary talk. The event was also open to members of the public as well as educators and school administrators who wanted to attend.
The opening speaker for the event was the GTSA student who had originally invited Schuyler. About 70 kids showed up, along with community members, parents, teachers, school and district leaders, and school board members. “I had a lot of emotions,” said the student thinking back on the talk, remembering one thing that really stood out was the amount of community members and “big wigs” in the audience.
“He was such a compassionate speaker,” said McLellan, in recounting her experience during the talk with Schuyler. “He shared his story of growing up knowing that he wasn’t how others saw him and talked about the stages of his life that eventually led him to become who he is today. He even did a segment on vocabulary in which he taught everyone how to talk about the issues using the right words. The range of questions from the audience was everything from specifics of surgery, to ‘how did you come out to your parents?’.” As the event came to a close, Schuyler invited people to speak to him individually after the talk, and also gave out his email address to people he felt might want to talk some more.
When asked what the best part of the event was, the student said, “Seeing people’s reactions at the end, and the understanding that they were given of what people face when they are transgender.” Following up by saying that, “Schuyler is an amazing speaker and it would be ‘awesome’ if other schools have him or someone like him come to their schools to speak to students.” The student noted that, “If there are students in the crowd, they will know they are not alone, and other people experience the same things as them.”