Photo: Transgender teen and LGBTQ youth advocate Jazz Jennings, co-author of I am Jazz, and star of TLCs I am Jazz
by Kate Snyder
An audience of 30, mostly children, sat spellbound listening to a reading in the Hillary Rodham Clinton Library in Little Rock, AR. It wasn’t Doc McStuffins that had captured their attention, but Nurse Rae Jennings, a transgender woman reading from the book I am Jazz, a children’s book about transgender youth.
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This event was organized on April 28 by Wil Dunn, an NEA member, activist, teacher and elementary school counselor who serves students in inner city Little Rock and his colleagues from the Arkansas Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Part Of The Solution (POTS). The I am Jazz reading in Little Rock coincided with efforts across the country supported by the NEA and the HRC Foundation to show solidarity with transgender youth wherever they may be.
“I have been a GLBT activist for a decade and I know that it’s events like the I am Jazz reading that raise awareness and take away people’s fear. Because that is really the issue, people are afraid of what they don’t know and they act out of that fear. We are changing that environment,” said Wil.
According to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s 2013 National Safe Schools Survey, 55.5% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, while 37.8% felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
The I am Jazz readings were organized in response to events last year in Wisconsin when legal threats from an anti-LGBTQ hate group forced the cancellation of a reading of the book organized to show support for a 6 year-old and her family. The local community rallied and over 600 community members, mostly parents and children, joined a public reading at the local library to show their solidarity.
“Great change is sweeping across this country. Now it’s ok for Katie to have two Moms and Mike to have two Dads. Kids can go to the library and see stories about families and people that are like them. Just having the I am Jazz book in the school library is helpful for kids. As educators, we are uniquely positioned to help people understand and make sure that kids–all kids–get the support, understanding, compassion and kindness they need from parents, communities, schools and friends. This is a quiet movement, but it is powerful.” said Wil.