THE BLOG
12/30/2014 05:11 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

A New Priority: Looking Ahead to College with My Transgender Daughter

The tree was up, packed full with presents. Granny was sleeping on the couch and at that moment life is good and the future is bright. It is a perfect night; the end to a great year. A year that has shown my children that good things happen if you work hard and you have a community and talented people that support you.

I turned off the lights, leaving only the Christmas tree to provide one last glimpse of a special moment in time. I was at peace, something that has seldom been present during the past ten years. There have been some wonderful moments that will always be cherished, but in the background loomed uncertainty. Uncertainty because I had and still have few points of reference to guide me. Few families and fewer men have been on this journey. My father, my uncles, my coaches and male mentors can only provide moral support. I can see in their eyes, the worry and the fear that they might say something wrong. I tell them there are no wrong responses or questions, I just need your ear.

It would have been of great value to hear from others that have been down the same path. Maybe I would have not made some of the early mistakes. Maybe I would have not been so afraid. The transgender child fathers' club is pretty small and seldom do I have the opportunity to talk to Petri, Greg, David or Chuck. All who live many miles away.

I was at peace when my head hit my pillow, thinking what a great Christmas present it would be to have a fathers' golf weekend, filled with evening poker games, great food and sharing. Sharing conversations that few dads have ever had. Then the sense of peacefulness started to fade. Raising my children has brought about many unique needs and challenging decisions that creep to the top of my to-do list. It is a list that most men could never imagine, and last tonight as I tried to sleep my focus was on priority number two: college.

Priority number one is always safety. Priority number two changes often, but it is always related to priority number one. Soon the kids will send out their college applications. I am hopeful that the kids will attend an excellent school near home -- schools that will provide opportunities for a great education, diverse experiences in a safe environment that will instill values and that will help them grow. It sounds simple enough, but for transgender families the challenges are often daunting. Challenges that campuses might not really understand and struggle with finding successful solutions. Solutions that demonstrates that our children will be safe and supported in the same manner as their classmates.

In January of this year we won an amazing victory for transgender rights. We are so thankful for all of the support we have received from GLAD and our friends and supporters from across the nation. We are thankful for our state leaders that had the courage to make the right decisions to protect all Mainers. We are proud that the Department of Education is stepping forward to enforce Title IX. All are great steps forward, but there is still a great deal of work to do.

Not long ago I read When Women Become Men at Wellesley, one quote jumped out at me, "I just wish the administration would at least acknowledge our existence." That student's statement reminded me that transgender students are still "separate but equal" at colleges and universities across the nation.

Tossing in bed, I thought about Nicole's recent visits to Mt. Holyoke and Smith College. Both campuses provide different approaches to supporting transgender students. Like Wellesley, they are trying to do the right things but seem to be struggling with how to balance tradition and procedure. I often worry about the decisions their leadership teams will make and how they will impact Nicole and her friends.

Nicole toured their campuses in stealth mode, to not raise her head too high, to just have a chance to visit without fanfare. She had a great time, both are campuses of interest. I still wonder if they are really ready for her. I wonder what campuses across the nation are ready to support her in every way.

Colleges and universities are changing. I am hopeful that highly regarded institutions like Wellesley and Smith will continue the trend and lead the way for others. I know the change does not come easy. I learned that saying the right words is not enough to implement change. It requires adjusting your core values. Core values that have been instilled since birth by family, coaches, teachers and commanders.

Core values are not that different from institutional values. Both are designed to help keep us on the right path. Institutional values provide campus presidents with a map to develop mission statements, policies and procedures. Campus leaders must go beyond written policy and rhetoric. They must demonstrate that equality is core on a daily basis.

Nicole's college visits reminded me that real change requires more than courage, it requires strong leadership and commitment.

While we have welcomed trans students in the past and for several years have been in conversation with campus constituencies about how best to foster a respectful environment for all students, we needed a formal policy: one that would articulate our commitment to core values of individual freedom, social justice, and diversity and inclusion.

The Mt. Holyoke president read that statement not long ago. I wish we could have been there to share the moment, so I might have had an opportunity to shake her hand for her courage and commitment.

We have ruled out remarkable schools because they still struggle with policy and procedure. We ruled out others because we cannot afford them. We are not alone; families with transgender children are living in hiding, they are constantly on the move, struggling to stay safe, unable to provide the medical care required to help their children. All of these challenges are emotionally and financially draining. Seldom is there much left to prepare for college.

How can we send Nicole to an institution where equality is not practiced in everyway. How will we know? Some of the campuses we are considering still struggle with housing, bathrooms, medical coverage and much more. Only 153 colleges and universities have gender-inclusive housing policies in the United States. Suggesting that transgender students are only welcome to live on campus as their true selves at five percent of our nation's colleges and universities. Our children are welcome, but in an extremely limited way.

It is the responsibility of each campus president to provide a safe and supportive community for the entire campus community. I hopeful that Wellesley, Smith and others will soon join Mt. Holyoke, Simmons, Mill's and Scripps to demonstrate that they want to be on the right side of history, leading the way to total equality.

I remind Nicole and Jonas how proud I am of them everyday. I remind anyone that will listen that transgender children and adults are not people to be feared, to be debated or categorized. They are the bravest people I know, revealing truths that will provide opportunities for institutions of higher education to learn in new ways. They are heroes to be embraced and introduced to every aspect of each institutions family and traditions.

My family gave up a number of traditions during our fight for equality. Every step of the way we reminded the kids that fighting for what you believe in, working hard and trusting that others will help you are the right path to success. We are hopeful that the institutions our children attend will continue to instill these same values. That is all we can ask for, it is up to them to take it from there.