kindness activist

kindness activist

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Equality Kindness

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 Ashlee.

This is Ashlee.  She teaches first grade in Omaha, Nebraska.
Ashlee, a Kindness Activist Extraordinaire
She has always been an advocate for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer) equality.  Heck, she has taken her children to march with her in the Pride Parade since they were tots!
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
8 year old Kyawpah came to America in 2015 and was lucky enough to end up in Ms. Ashlee’s first grade class in Omaha, Nebraska.  She was a quiet student, probably because she didn’t know English.  And she was often an unhappy student.   Her name on the school roster was not Kyawpah (the name she told them was hers) – there was confusion on the first day of school because they could not find her on the official list.  Then it turned out that there was a MALE name for her on the roster, but she calls herself the female name Kyawpah, because the “pah” part means “flower” in her native language. 


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, and won.

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 :)
She now comes to school dressed as who she is, and is not forced to hide her girl clothes under layers to peel off.  She loves painted fingernails, make-up, high heels, and skirts.  She uses the female restroom, loves to hang out with her classmates, and is learning some English. 

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 goes and picks Kyawpah up from her house sometimes and keeps her for a few hours, shopping and playing.  Her parents do not know any English yet but are happy that their child has a friend.  They stand in the window, smiling and waving at Ashlee when she comes over.   And Kyawpah is learning more and more English – she can say her A B Cs and, like most little girls her age, loves to sing “Let It Go”  from “Frozen” (which I imagine she has watched a million times…). 


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 mind.

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 kindnessactivist@gmail.com.  And click "like" on the Kindness Activist Facebook page, please.  


3 comments:

  1. THANK YOU ASHLEE!!! I came out in 1969 but even in 1965 there was ONE person whom I will always be grateful for -- who accepted me JUST THE WAY I WAS. I know there will be MANY who will thank you for your kindnesses towards them. And yes, when a person is accepted for the way THEY perceive themselves-- life is SO MUCH easier for them AND the people around them. I have lost too many friends to suicide because they were vilified for who they were (and they were some of the GENTLEST KINDEST people I have ever known!!)

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment here. I will make sure that Ashlee sees your message, as I know it will inspire her. Hugs to you!!!

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  2. Most excellent!!!! Thanks!!

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