Over the past few years, Stephanie Byers, a Kansas high school band and orchestra teacher who came out as a transgender woman in 2014 has quietly met with school leaders, participated on panels about LGBTQ issues, talked with parents about gender identity, chaperoned a local “Day of Advocacy”, and spoke at the state Capitol. Last week, GLSEN named her National Educator of the Year.
A 20-plus year educator, Byers said she didn’t transition to be a pioneer or an advocate, but she has become both. She thinks she is the first Wichita teacher to transition after being hired into the district. As she contemplated her transition, she called district officials to ask about it and, “There were no protocols in place for this,” she told The Wichita Eagle.
Byers, 55, decided to come out as a transgender woman toward her retirement despite fears about possible repercussions.
She received “absolutely amazing” support from district officials, from Sherman Padgett, principal at North High, and from faculty members.
“People that I have never spoken to in this building came up and wrapped their arms around me to tell me how much they care for me and love me and were proud of me,” Byers said. “It was very, very affirming.”
Alondra Larios, a former student of Byers, said, “I think it was a confident thing to do. She explained it like, ‘I’m still a normal human being.’ She just changed her pronouns.”
Byers said she hopes the GLSEN Respect Award, given to an educator who works to create safe and inclusive schools, will increase awareness of LGBTQ issues in Kansas and “start to smooth out the pathways for the people who follow behind me.”