Parents David and Leslie Lagerstrom, son Sam, 16, and 12-year-old daughter Josie were recognized on Friday, Jan. 18, for raising awareness about transgender children by the Twin Cities chapter of PFLAG, a nonprofit that promotes the health and wellbeing of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and their friends and family.
The PFLAG award was unexpected, Sam said. Leslie echoed that, saying they were surprised, and honored, to receive the award.
David and Leslie credit Sam, who was born female but always knew he was male, with wanting to begin their quest to educate people so that society understands and accepts transgender children.
The family focuses on educating teachers and medical professionals because they are the people a family will first turn to when they have a transgender child, Leslie said.
The Lagerstroms are open and transparent about their family and they participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools program, sharing their story in schools and communities.
Leslie also left her corporate job two years ago to begin a blog called “Transparenthood,” a personal account of a parent learning how to support her son. She said she hears from people as close as the next city over and as far away as New Zealand.
They hope that raising awareness can prevent children from having to go through the difficulties that Sam has gone through.
“Hopefully someday it won’t be so hard,” Sam said.
The most important thing is for people to know that they aren’t alone, he said.
Leslie pointed out that kindness and a smile can go a long way, especially during the teenage years when life is difficult enough.
“We need awareness. At the end of the day, Sam is Sam. It’s nothing to make fun of. It’s very real,” Leslie said.
There needs to be more understanding in the classroom because it’s the foundation of where people grow up, Sam said.
Ever since Sam could speak, he told his parents that he was really a boy, Leslie said.
“I never thought I was a girl,” Sam said.
He wanted the boys’ toys at McDonalds and wanted to shop in the boys’ department in clothing stores.
He was so persistant and his parents began to listen when he was around 8 years old. Leslie said they started to realize it wasn’t a choice or a phase for Sam and that there was a disconnect between Sam’s mind and body.
It was frustrating because people would say that they have a child like him who went through a phase and they didn’t get it, Sam said.
“I clearly knew but no one else did,” he said.
Leslie gives Sam credit for being himself.
“He has the courage to be true to himself and know himself,” she said.
There was very little information available at the time and most of it was about transgender adults, Leslie said. Even now, eight years later, there continues to be little information available to families, she said. There were also few professional medical resources available. The University of Minnesota had the only program in the area with professionals dedicated to helping families with transgender children.
In the last eight years, Leslie said she’s noticed there’s more news about transgender people and David said he’s noticed unisex and family bathrooms are becoming more common.
At school, the family has been told they’re pioneers because Edina schools haven’t had a transgender student before. South View Middle School dealt with the situation the best they could and Edina High School staff has been accommodating, Leslie said.
Sam said he has been made fun of and picked on. Not many teachers and students understand, which is why he wants to increase the understanding among teachers about transgender children, he said.
They’ve shied away from gender-specific sports because they weren’t up to the reaction, Leslie said. Sam participated on a team when he was still presenting as a girl, but he was the only girl on the team and the coach wasn’t interested in having Sam on the team, David said. Sam participated on the ski team, which was fine because it was a mixed-gender group.
Instead, he’s focused on excelling on the high school’s debate team, winning the junior varsity state title. Leslie said it’s helped him meet people from across the country who only know him for who he is now. The debate team is filled with good, smart kids who get to know you as a person, she said.
“Kids know Sam first for Sam,” she said.
Josie said that although some people don’t get it, her friends were fine with it when they found out because they knew Sam for his personality. Josie said she’s fine with it and supports her older brother. Leslie adds that it’s never been an issue for Josie.
Sam has also had teachers along the way who have been instrumental in helping him. Edina High School teacher Rachel Hatten didn’t put up with bullying and when students would purposely use the wrong pronoun for Sam, she stopped it immediately, Leslie said. Sometimes people want to coddle children who are different, but EHS teacher Claude Sigmund didn’t do that, Leslie said. He got to know Sam, found out Sam was interested in books and debating, and then fed that interest.
“He showed respect for Sam and modeled that for the kids in the class,” Leslie said. “It takes a true leader for people to understand.”
Contact Lisa Kaczke at [email protected]