Claire Birkenshaw was the first person to transition while working as a principal in Hull, England. Her journey started as a child when at four years old she felt she was faking being a boy. She grew up worried people would discover her secret. She felt shame. She felt guilt. And now after transitioning, she wants no child to suffer the same way. As she told a newspaper in Hull, “I also know that if I did nothing, then as an educationalist that believes in helping all children to feel that their life has meaning and purpose, I would be letting those transgendered children down that share those thoughts, feelings and fears that I had when I was growing up. After living so long feeling invisible, I wanted to make myself visible.”
As a teacher she thought carefully about her decision to transition. And while she considered moving and starting over, she knew she wanted to “take everyone on this journey with me”…and that meant staying put and helping everyone adjust to the change. The support overwhelmed her.
Now, she has taken on the challenge of breaking down the myths, stereotypes and stigma that children and young people feel when they discover they’re “in the wrong body”. She describes herself as Educationalist, Equality&Diversity Advocate, CEOP Ambassador, Former HT, Senior Advisor
#LGBTEd, LGBTQ+ Leeds Beckett University.
Our evening started with Claire’s story and was followed by a panel discussion. Each guest shared their personal experiences of what it’s like transitioning while working in the school system, dealing with identity issues as a student, or being a parent or person who supports trans individuals. Inclusion and belonging are central themes to Roots of Empathy – as is empathy of course. Hopefully this discussion can lead to insights on the school system, what works, and how things can improve.