Since 2018, the parents, guardians and caregivers that compose the Gender Awareness and Inclusion Network (GAIN) have been fighting for the safety and equality of transgender and gender nonconforming youth. The group stands in solidarity with people of all races, sexual orientations, genders, disability statuses, immigrant statuses, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions and walks of life, but focuses their advocacy on gender diversity.
So far, the work of GAIN membership has manifested primarily in pushing for gender inclusion in the Lower Merion School District. Its leaders have also done community engagement including participating in this year’s Pride in the Park in Narberth, Pa. and organizing an LGBTQ+-inclusive sex education talk for elementary school kids. Going forward, GAIN leadership plans to branch out and fight for trans and nonbinary youth via advocacy, organizational collaboration and community outreach.
“I think there’s a lot of interest right now among people, at least out here on the Main Line, who may or may not be parents of transgender or gender diverse kids but recognize that these kids are under attack and want to help,” said GAIN co-leader Beckie Schatschneider. “I think we see ourselves in this current moment as trying to establish some political voice because of the urgency of our Pennsylvania elections coming up, as well as taking on a public advocacy role.”
Bills targeting trans youth have been introduced or passed in two dozen U.S. states, including legislation that bans trans women and girls from participating in school sports that correspond to their gender and bans on gender-affirming healthcare for minors.
The genesis of GAIN came from parental support for Lower Merion School District’s Policy 259, which states that students can openly identify as the gender that resonates with them, and teachers cannot discriminate against them based on their gender. GAIN developed out of the group Gender Expansive and Transgender (GET), which Lower Merion School District officials used when they created policy 259, GAIN leadership said.
Out of those meetings, which educated parents about supporting their gender diverse children, Candice Chaplin, a mother in the school district who has since passed away, united some of the people who currently make up GAIN. While the GET group was a good support system for parents, Chaplin, Schatschneider and their fellow parents wanted to form a group to do advocacy work.
Members of GAIN currently serve on the Lower Merion School District’s Gender and Sexuality Inclusivity and Belonging (GSIB) Committee. In that role, they communicate with GSIB members about their perspective on what they’re seeing and hearing about in the school, and the effectiveness of Policy 259.
“Being part of this group, as well as being part of the GSIB committee has been incredibly uplifting and supportive,” said an anonymous GAIN co-leader whose child is trans. “I feel incredibly grateful for the support that (the district) gives to the parents and the measures that they will take to make your child comfortable.”
The GAIN co-leaders said they feel that it is imperative to up the ante on public education about trans and nonbinary kids to normalize trans and gender diverse bodies.
“We also want people to be aware that they may or may not have someone in their family [who is gender diverse] at some point that they don’t even realize they have yet,” said GAIN co-leader Cheryl Masterman. “So it’s very important for them to understand what it means to be transgender in particular, because that’s the one bill that seems to be popping up everywhere.”
In keeping with that mindset, Mia, another GAIN co-leader, said, “these are not other people’s kids in other communities. These are kids that your kids know and meet and are friends with, and that we all want to see succeed. To me, there’s kind of an obligation to share the experience or share the reality that these kids exist in.”
The GAIN co-leader who requested to be anonymous stressed the importance of advocating for trans youth rights now before more transphobic legislation goes into effect and existing rights are revoked.
“If we lose the rights that we have now, which is where we’re headed, and if certain candidates win, then some of us have talked about moving out of state,” the co-leader said. “My child will be going through puberty during the time that those politicians are in office if they win. And that would mean that gender affirming health care, gender affirming mental health care, could potentially be illegal in Pennsylvania. We have a chance right now to make a difference.”