Sometimes opportunities to
be a kindness activist just show up at the doorstep. Some people notice them, others don’t. Ashlee did.
But would you know what to do, could YOU be as amazing an
ally as Ashlee is, if you were to make a friend that needed someone in their
corner to fight for them?? I think we
could all take a KINDNESS LESSON from
This is Ashlee. She teaches first grade in Omaha, Nebraska.
|Ashlee, a Kindness Activist Extraordinaire|
|Ashlee's kids ready for the Pride Parade when they were little|
|Ash and her son at last summer's Pride Parade, our theme was mermaids :)|
And this is Kyawpah (sounds like Jaw Paw). She is from a people called Karen, from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma)*.
|Kyawpah, all dressed up for a birthday party|
Kyawpah came with her
family to the USA from a refugee camp. She
would come to school dressed as a boy, but would tell everyone that she was a
girl. She would sit very quietly in
class because she knew NO English.
Ashlee worked through a
translator to talk with Kyawpah’s parents.
They explained that ever since she was 2 years old, she had been
dressing as a girl at the refugee camp. They had tried to stop her from dressing that
way, but couldn’t. She would sneak out,
steal clothes from other girls, and dress how she wanted to. Her parents requested that the school “fix
Kyawpah in the American way” so that she would stop being a girl. Ashlee, though the translator, told them that
they have a beautiful child, and that she is strong willed, determined and persistent.
Kyawpah would often come
to school dressed as a boy (as her parents requested) but then peel off layers
to reveal secret girl clothes underneath.
When Ashlee would see her in girl clothing she would make sure to compliment
her on how beautiful she looked. Kyawpah
knew NO English, couldn’t speak one word, but she knew which bathroom pass was
for the girl’s bathroom and she used it often J. It almost seems to me like that
was one way she tried to explain to those around her what she must have been
trying to scream – “I AM A GIRL, I can’t tell you in your language, but please
help me, I need someone to support me. I am a girl!”
The school thought it would be best if she used the bathroom in the
nurses office, but Ms. Ashlee would have none of that and fought for little
Kyawpah to be able to use the restroom she most identifies with, the girl’s,
Ashlee quickly recognized
that if Kyawpah was allowed to identify as a girl she was a MUCH HAPPIER
student. She would hold her head up,
interact with other kids, assimilate into the American culture more, and
learn. She has a little nervous tic that
comes out when she is forced to dress as a boy, and she was uncomfortable so would
just keep her head down. Ashlee went
back to Kyawpah’s home with the translator and explained that to her parents that
their child was HAPPIER and functioned better when she was allowed to be who
she is. This time the parents understood
and said that their goal is to have a happy child, so they said that they support
the school and Kyawpah and no longer force her to dress as a boy.
As Ashlee puts it, “I
looked at her like any other child. She just
truly wanted to be HAPPY. I need to make
a successful environment for ALL children, no matter their gender or
sexuality, that doesn’t have anything to
do with it. They are HUMAN BEINGS and I need
to provide a safe learning environment for them. That’s what I did for her, just like I would
do for any of my students.”
|Ashlee and Kyawpah, who is rocking a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt :)|
From what I have seen, Ms. Ashlee is her best friend at school. Ashlee has done soooo much for her! The most obvious, of course, is being her advocate with the school system and the parents. But Ashlee has gone above and beyond to make Kyawpah feel welcomed and happy. With the parents’ permission, Ash has taken her shopping for clothes, which she loves!! I got to meet Kyawpah when she was invited to Ashlee’s kids’ birthday party. Ash had gotten matching outfits for her daughter Tallis and Kyawpah – it was so sweet. And Tallis let her friend play with the brand new Barbie make-up doll that she got as a birthday present. You should have seen Kyawpah’s eyes light up when she brushed that Barbie’s long hair. J
Kyawpah had to move out of
Ashlee’s classroom into a second grade class because of her age, but all of the
students in Ashlee’s class love and embrace her. They don’t understand the concept of
transgender, but know and accept their friend as a girl. They have asked Ashlee if she is a boy or a
girl, and Ashlee’s response is that they should ask HER directly, but what she feels in her heart is what she is.
|Ashlee in her classroom. She is an amazing teacher.|
Ashlee recently spoke at a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)* meeting in Omaha to tell Kyawpah’s story. It was very well received and I am sure inspired and helped the people who were fortunate to hear it. I wish that there were PFLAG meetings in the Karen language so that Kyawpah’s parents could meet others who have transgender children and understand that they are not alone.
I worry about what will
happen to Kyawpah when Ashlee isn’t there to be her advocate. Other schools and teachers may not be as
accepting or kind. My wish is that her
parents, who see what a difference this acceptance has made in their child’s
life, will fight for her rights. Ashlee
explained, “The hard part is, wherever she goes, on paper, she is a male. Right now everything is hunky dory, she is
fine and happy. But at some point she
will go through puberty… And when she
goes to another school, if they identify her as male, kids might harass her…”. I hope that the children and adults she meets
as she grows up will be open minded and accepting.
“The whole thing was, the
school administration wanted us to treat her like a male. The parents wanted us to treat her like a
male. But she wasn’t going to allow it –
bottom line. She wasn’t allowing anyone
to treat her like a male, or call her a male.
Or keep her out of the girl’s bathroom. It wasn’t happening. So without her strong feelings of knowing in
her heart and mind that that is what she was, and being new to an American
school and culture, it could have been such a devastating experience for her
when she got here if it didn’t go the way it did. But the kind of sickening thing about it is –
people were more concerned about what OTHER PARENTS would say over the child’s
well being. That was disheartening… Because HER HEART and well being is just as
important as somebody else’s. People
said, ‘What if parents call and say that there is a boy in the girl’s
bathroom??’… But the thing, many of us have BEEN in the bathroom
when there was a transgender person in there.
A transgendered person doesn’t have a SIGN on them that says ‘I am
transgender and I am here to go in the opposite sex bathroom’. They are doing what is right for them. It is sad that our world still has so much
work to do… ”
Ashlee’s advocacy with
school officials and Kyawpah’s parents made a huge difference in that little
girl’s life. She is now happy and able
to focus and learn. Her identity is
accepted without question and she can be who she is. She tried to tell the world since she was 2
years old that she was a girl, and when she happened into Ms. Ashlee’s class
someone finally heard.
When I told Ash that
Kyawpah was lucky to have found her, she choked up and said, “She is not the
lucky one, I am lucky to have found HER.”.
I say, they are both lucky and are a perfect match. Thank you for being such an advocate for
equality, Ashlee. You are most
definitely a KINDNESS ACTIVIST. Your supportive
and kind actions with Kyawpah have made a huge difference in not only HER LIFE,
but also her parents’ lives and the other students who see your open heart and
For more information about
the amazing group PFLAG, see: PFLAG link
For more information about
caring for LGBTQ youth, see HRC’s helpful site: HRC link
For more information on
the Karen people from Myanmar, see Karen/Myanmar link
|Bonus photo for anyone who read allllll the way down here to the bottom! |
Here is our whole family at the Pride Parade in Omaha, Nebraska - summer 2015.
Love is definitely greater than hate.
DO YOU KNOW A KINDNESS ACTIVIST?? Please tell me about them! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And click "like" on the Kindness Activist Facebook page, please.