A school district made a big move to protect transgender students. Here's what that's all about.

Transgender students in northern Virginia got some good news when the Fairfax County School Board voted to revise the nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity.

The school board adopted the revised policy on the evening of Thursday, May 7, 2015. Until then, the district's policy banned discrimination on the basis of age, race, national origin, disability, religion, and sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

Tamara Derenak Kaufax of the Fairfax County School Board gave a brief rundown of why they decided to include gender identity in the existing policy.


"The decision by the school board to add 'gender identity to our nondiscrimination policy is to provide an environment which promotes equality where every student and employee is treated with dignity and respect. This tells our students and staff that school and the FCPS workplace are places where they can be safe from harassment and discrimination." — School Board Chair, Tamara Derenak Kaufax

So often, the conversation surrounding whether to protect trans students revolves around talk of bathrooms or locker rooms. The reality is, what bathroom a trans student uses is just one of several major challenges they face in school.

Trans kids are harassed, physically and sexually assaulted, and even expelled as a result of their gender.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, more than 3 out of 4 trans students report being harassed because of their gender.

Worse yet, the harassment isn't solely the product of students. Nearly 1 in 3 trans students reports being harassed by a teacher or school staff member.

National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 2011

The numbers can be startling, but sometimes we need to hear from those most affected by these types of policies — the trans students themselves.

Here's an example of Ashton Lee detailing some of the challenges he faced as a trans student.

When California was considering a statewide policy that would add trans nondiscrimination policies to all schools, one of the most vocal students was then-16-year-old Ashton Lee.
(Full disclosure, in my past job as a freelance writer, I interviewed Ashton for Rolling Stone.)

He discussed how subtle forms of discrimination, both overt and accidental, made school an unnecessarily challenging experience.

Being forced to go by the name he was given at birth, separated from the other boys, and lumped in with the girls in his class, Ashton began to struggle.

He talks about how great it was to finally come to terms with himself for who he really is, but how much it hurts to have his existence erased by classmates, teachers, and parents.

Ashton's public testimony helped put a face to the issue for California lawmakers.

When I spoke to Ashton for Rolling Stone, shortly after the bill passed, here's what he told me about what it meant to him to be able to be treated as himself in school and be treated like any other boy:

"As soon as the governor signed the bill, my school allowed me to use the proper restrooms. If the bill is overturned, it would be a huge blow to me, and I fear that I would have to return to pretending to be someone I'm not at school." — Ashton Lee

It can be hard to take in just how much of a challenge kids like Ashton face. Being a teenager is hard. Why make it any harder?


Hopefully, the actions of the Fairfax County School Board will have the same effect on trans students in northern Virginia as the law had in California.

Kids shouldn't have to worry about being bullied for who they are. And for the naysayers claiming that the school board's decision will lead to boys pretending to be girls in order to use the locker rooms or other nonsense, here's a fact: California's law has been in effect now for more than a year. There have been no issues. The only effect it's had has been an improved environment for trans kids.

Check out Ashton Lee's 2013 testimony in the video below.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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