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Online Extra: LGBTQ Update: Local school seeks funds on Give OUT Day

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Renee Ho, right, shown with her son, Kawika, hopes to raise funds on Give OUT Day for a Welcoming Schools program to help trans students. Photo: Courtesy Renee Ho
Renee Ho, right, shown with her son, Kawika, hopes to raise funds on Give OUT Day for a Welcoming Schools program to help trans students. Photo: Courtesy Renee Ho  

One mom in Petaluma, California is fighting for a safe, culturally competent school environment for her 6-year-old transgender son.

Renee Ho, 37, started Amor Para Todos, a committee of parents that is fundraising to implement a Welcoming Schools program at Loma Vista Immersion Academy. The professional development program, created by the Human Rights Campaign, provides training and resources to educators to create LGBT gender inclusive school atmospheres.

Amor Para Todos, which means love for everyone in Spanish, already has 29 members, including parents and some teachers, just about a month after being formed. The group is asking for donations on Give OUT Day, the 24-hour national LGBT day of giving, which is Thursday, April 18.

"APT's vision is to help make a difference nationwide and we are starting at Loma Vista," Ho told the Bay Area Reporter. "We want to combat statistics and save peoples' lives."

Ho's son, Kawika, transitioned when he was just 3 years old. He began to vocalize to his mom that he didn't feel like a girl. He wanted shorter hair and wanted to be known as Kawika.

As a former educator herself, Ho explained the importance of early intervention education and knew LGBT cultural and gender training was no different. Although Kawika's pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers, and the school's administration, were "amazing" and "supportive," Ho understands that's not the case for all trans youth.

"There are some real troubling statistics in regard to transgender and gender-nonconforming youth and suicide," Ho said. "Trans males have the highest suicide rate. As a mother that is pretty terrifying, but at the same time very motivating."

The mom of four cited a study, "Transgender Adolescent Suicide Behavior," published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, that showed more than half of male transgender adolescents had attempted suicide along with 41.8% of nonbinary youth, and 29.9% of female trans adolescents.

She began working with her son's future principal, Jorge Arvizu at Loma Vista eight months before Kawika was enrolled. She wanted his teachers to be informed and ready to handle any situation that arose. Her son is now coming up on the end of his year as a kindergartener at the Spanish-immersion school, and Ho convinced the principal to hold two informal LGBT staff trainings.

Now, Ho has her sights set on implementing Welcoming Schools, which aims to prevent bias-based bullying, allow trans and nonbinary students to thrive, and create classrooms that welcome all families. The superintendent of the school has given permission for the implementation, and Arvizu is completely on board and said he will strive to work the trainings into the district schedule, which is packed with mandated programs.

"When she introduced it to us it really sounded like a positive program that all schools need," said Arvizu, who added that the trainings that have already occurred have been successful and welcomed by all staff members. "As an administrator my overarching desire is to have any marginalized group feel safe and inclusive."

The only thing left in order to implement Welcoming Schools is raise funds, Ho said. APT needs $17,000 for the program. It has a few thousand dollars already, but needs the help of the community. APT is holding a local fundraiser at Rafy's Pizzeria, 615 E. Washington Street in Petaluma, Thursday, April 18, from 4 to 9 p.m. All are welcome.

Once the professional development program is implemented, all school staff would undergo three trainings annually for two years, and one training in the last year. APT also has goals of creating a student group that would provide a safe space for all students, and get more diverse books into the classrooms.

To donate during Give OUT Day, head to https://www.giveoutday.org/c/GO/a/lviapta .

Charly & the Characters release single about coming out
The Los Angeles-based band Charly & the Characters dropped a new single, "Don't Know, Don't Care," April 4. Written and performed by the lead singer and composer of the band, Charly, or Marie Weill, 29, from France, the song tells the story of her personal coming out experience as a bisexual woman.

Weill met her fiancée, Zoe Pelloux, six years ago when they were both learning English at a school in LA. Pelloux is also from France. Weill had formerly dated men although she always knew she was attracted to women.

The video, available on YouTube, follows Weill and the other band members on the streets of LA. The black and white video was directed, produced, and written by Pelloux. It has been described by http://www.stereostickman.com in a music review as having "deeply thoughtful and often poetic lyrics," and that its "organic instrumentation seeks to appeal to and satisfy those inner indie-rock and blues fans within us."

"I thought I knew all those things about love," state the lyrics of the song. "And I don't know how to handle it, I need to find somebody to speak about it and try to clear it. I wanna fix my spirit."

In the video, each band member is also represented by a colorful, animated character. The final scene shows Weill making eye contact with a woman passing by. She then has the courage to go over and spark up a conversation. Weill turns to the camera and winks. In less than two weeks, the video has racked up over 4,000 views.

When the B.A.R. spoke to Weill, who was in France, she said it was important for her to get her message out, not only for personal reasons, but to let others know that it's OK to come out and freely express who you are.

"When I met my fiancée, I always knew that I was bisexual, but that's when it became real," she said. "I started to write this song because I was struggling with what I should do and how to do it.

"I wanted this song to be able to help other people and it was important for me to tell my audience who I was and who I loved and that it was OK," she said.

Although the song is meant for all audiences, Weill also hopes to help LGBT youth through their own coming out experience. For her the moment represented freedom.

"I wanted to show people that coming out doesn't have to be scary," she said. "For some people it can be hard; I was pretty lucky. I think once it's done it, was for me, a happy event. I was finally, entirely myself. Even if it's a hard situation for some people, it should be a happy thing."

The animated characters, designed by artist Caio Slikta, include a bird, a bear, a salamander, and what looks like a blue reindeer. They were a way to "innocently say stuff that can be harsh," Weill said.

Being able to fully be who she was also came with some negative elements. After coming out, Weill explained that she more deeply understood the daily discrimination LGBT people face. Becoming an LGBT activist and publicly standing up for what she believes was something Pelloux helped inspire, Weill added.

Working together on the project, though it's not the first time the couple has professionally collaborated, was important to Weill because it was their story she was telling and wanted her fiancée to be a part of it.

Pelloux has produced multiple short films in the LA area including an animated short she wrote and directed. Last year, Pelloux produced and directed, Weill's solo song, "What's Next?" that was primarily animation.

Weill is also a film composer for up-and-coming filmmakers. She studied film composition for a year at San Francisco's Academy of Art University.

Charly & the Characters hope to stop in the Bay Area when they go on their next tour, although no date has been set as of yet. To watch the video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nAKsier-FQ.

This is the last LGBTQ Update for the immediate future, as this is assistant editor Alex Madison's last week at the Bay Area Reporter.

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