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A Tacoma girl's transgender journey inspires her mom, creates a school program

Stella Keating. KOMO News photo

TACOMA, Wash. -- Eleven-year-old Stella Keating of Tacoma is an artist.

She uses crayons, watercolors, anything she can to express herself and her message.

Stella has always been self-reflective, knowing she was different from a very young age.

“For six years Stella was really fluid in her gender expression,” said Stella’s mother, Lisa Keating. “Two years ago is when she said, ‘Actually, I think I’m transgender.’ ”

Stella was assigned the male gender at birth, but now identifies and lives as a female.

“I went to my mom and said, ‘When I wear boy’s clothes, or what are considered to be boy’s clothes, I want you to call me by my old name,” Stella said. “Then I added, ‘When I wear clothes like I’m wearing now, I want you to call me Stella.' ”

Before a new school year started, Lisa prepared herself and her family for what that transition might be like. She wanted to support Stella while and be prepared for any questions she may have . Lisa did a lot of reading and talked to as many people who worked with the demographic as she could. Then, she let Stella take the lead.

“I went to the principal, I went to the teacher and the counselor and said ‘This is where she’s at right now,' "said Lisa.

Then it was Stella’s turn. She describes explaining to her classmates she didn’t want to go by her old name anymore. She told them she was still herself, but had a different name, used a different pronoun and treated herself differently.

“They were confused,” said Stella. “I had to explain to them and they eventually understood that I’m transgender.”

Lisa said her family’s journey, and Stella’s transition in school, was made easier by Tacoma Public Schools already having LGBTQ support systems and anti-harassment policies in place.

But Lisa wanted to take it one step further at Stella’s school, Geiger Montessori.

In October 2014, she created an after-school group called Allies in Action. The program focuses on a “preventative, grassroots approach to harassment, intimidation and bullying in Tacoma Public Schools.”

“There’s a more intentional dialogue happening that’s reaching not just the administrators but the school counselors and the staff,” said Lisa. “Until we start having conversations and allow a safe space to ask questions, we’re never going to learn from each other.”

Resources for LGBTQ youth, families and supporters:

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