A simplistic meme that attempts to knock down transgender people as "psycho" was wonderfully corrected by Grace Pokela, a biology teacher at Arlington High School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (see meme below, and Pokela's Facebook response below it). Pokela's well-informed clapback caught fire on social media over the last 48 hours and The Advocate contacted her to learn more.
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The Advocate: What prompted you to write the brilliant response?
Pokela: I was motivated to respond to the meme because it was incredibly hateful. Once our culture shifted and marriage equality passed, I feel that the right, instead of opening their hearts or reconsidering their position, has simply moved on to what they consider to be an easier target. All of the things that are being said about transgender folks now — that they are unnatural, that they are delusional or sociopathic, that they are dangerous — are the exact same things that were being said about gay people just a few years ago. As a cisgender lesbian, that is simply unacceptable to me. Transgender people are in my community as a queer person, and they are in my community as a human. And the language being used against them is disgusting. Secondly, as a biology teacher and avid studier of natural history, the science was awful! When you study the natural world, you are awed by its complexity. To argue that nature suggests a strict sex or gender binary is simply ridiculous.
Did the recent executive order lifting federal protection of trans students play a role?
Absolutely. We are living in a country wherein nearly half of all transgender children have attempted suicide. These are little children and young teenagers we are talking about. They deserve safety, and they deserve respect. They deserve a life. It feels crazy to have to say that a child deserves a life.
How long have you been teaching? Have you had significant dealings with LGBT students?
I have been teaching for eight years. I am lesbian myself and have run a [gay-straight alliance] in the past. But my most extensive experience has been in trying my hardest to create a classroom in which every single person is welcomed and valued, regardless of any aspect of their identity.
Arlington High School gets glowing reviews from LGBT alumni. A rarity in and of itself for a Hudson Valley high school. What is that it makes it such a special place?
It is a special place! I am actually in my first year as a teacher at AHS. It is absolutely my dream school, and I am never leaving! I think it's incredible that a school with thousands of students can still manage to build such a tight-knit, caring community. I think a large portion of the credit goes to the staff. The teachers and administrators at Arlington are incredible. I will come to work and bring all of my passion, dedication, and heart — and then see it matched or surpassed by every single one of my coworkers. It's a great place to be.