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A Transgender Teacher in Hawai'i Makes a Place for Every Student (VIDEO)

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It seems that not a day goes by without some reminder of the world's cruelty to those who don't conform to the usual stereotypes of male and female gender roles, from family rejection to bullying and harassment in schools, from denial of medical treatment to workplace and housing discrimination, from social exclusion to physical violence and even murder. (See "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.")

Two years ago we were introduced to a world where the story is different, a world in which there is a place in the middle for every child and adult: Kumu Hinaʻs Hawai'i. This clip is a sneak peek at that world as portrayed in our upcoming documentary film, Kumu Hina:

The main character is Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, an inspiring teacher, or kumu, who uses her native Hawaiian culture to empower her young students at a small public charter school called Hālau Lōkahi. One of the many ancient traditions that she is passing down is that of respect and inclusion of māhū, those who embrace both the feminine and the masculine traits that are embodied in each one of us.

In Hawaiian history, māhū were valued as caretakers, healers, and teachers of ancient tradition, passing on their sacred knowledge from one generation to the next through hula and chant. Kumu Hina embodies and brings this ancient tradition to life in todayʻs modern Honolulu.

In Kumu Hina's school, a young student who decides to wear both male and female leis at a school performance is not sent to the principal's office or the guidance counselor as would likely occur at a school in the continental U.S.A., nor are the other students derisive or hostile, much less violent. Instead they are, well, a little envious of this studentʻs special place in the middle!

Kumu Hina tells a rich and complex story, from Hina's transition from boy to girl over 20 years ago, to her search for love and a committed relationship with a young man from Tonga, to her current life as a teacher, cultural practitioner and community leader. We hope that the premiere of the film in 2014 will launch a new national conversation about gender and youth and lead to the creation of more sensitive and inclusive environments for all people across the wide and diverse gender spectrum.

After all, if this welcoming and encompassing approach to education with aloha works so well in Hawai'i, why not make it work on the continent and everywhere else?

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post contained a very slightly different version of the video clip, which has since been re-edited. The post has been updated to include the latest edit of the clip.