A dozen years ago, the issue of depression and suicide among gay and transgender youth garnered a great deal of media attention. And while the facts were not new, there was finally enough focus that schools and other organizations began to take meaningful steps to address the problem.

In their determination to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, faculty at Napa Valley College designed a series of classes on relevant topics, such as activism within the community, transgender issues and identities, and human sexuality.  The classes could be taken by anyone, but would have particular relevancy to students pursuing careers in health, criminal justice, education or human services, where they are likely to engage with members of the LGBT community.

Napa Valley also began 18-unit certificate programs to prepare students to work in LGBT serving non-profit organizations, public institutions, and private business. To ensure a broad range of electives, Napa Valley partnered with City College of San Francisco, which offers 20 additional courses, many of which can be taken online.

“This past year we went a step further, offering an associate degree program,” says Greg Miraglia, MA, Ed., program coordinator.  “We’re at the forefront in this area, since only two other colleges have a similar degree.”

All the courses in the program are focused on creating awareness around gender identification, Miraglia continues. “Knowing the language to use can be a big advantage in dealing with clients in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly if you’re going into healthcare, education, or hospitality.” Often, he says, students from other majors take an introductory class that sounds intriguing, then discover they have a real interest in the area.

One project in particular builds sensitivity for those who are gender nonconforming by having students identify all the decisions they would have to make if they wanted to transgender. Would they change their names? Their clothing? What public bathroom would they use? Would they take hormones or undergo surgery, and would insurance cover the cost? A deep dive into both the law and the personal gives them a broader understanding of the issues members of the community often face.

“The associate degree program would be primarily for those interested in social justice or activism. Therapists and those entering education and child development fields are also good candidates,” Miraglia says. “There’s a mythology out there that since the marriage equality bill has passed, this community enjoys full civil rights. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Law enforcement, for example, has a history of prejudice.” Coursework covers such important issues as learning how to reach consensus, rights regarding free speech, and what the history of radical movements has shown to work best.

Kyler Thompson ’21, one of the first students to graduate from the program, recognized in high school that she has a passion for both advocacy work and youth education. “I felt the program fell in line with who I was,” she says. Now working with Napa Valley’s Admission Office, she plans to transfer to San Diego State for a bachelor’s degree, with the long-term goal of opening up a youth center one day.

“My wish is to provide support for LGBT youth, who are underserved in the community,” Thompson says. “I’m a believer in teaching kids to advocate for themselves, showing them what resources are there for them, and in giving them space to get help without being discriminated against.”

LGBT studies can provide a solid grounding for students in a number of different study areas. Education majors, for example, are often motivated by the need to successfully deliver content mandated in California’s Fair and Inclusive Act. “Teachers must understand the difference between sexual identity and gender identification, and over several different grad levels deliver content related to the history and fight for civil rights,” Miraglia explains.

The LGBT community has been through a lot, and members don’t always know who is supportive, says Thompson. Those planning a career in business or hospitality, she says, “Should know it’s OK to ask questions, to ask someone how they want to be addressed or what pronoun to use. It’s a gesture that you support them.”

Transgender people often report being put off or rejected by the healthcare system. This can have serious consequences, as studies have shown that almost 70% of people who feel mistreated or unfairly judged by their healthcare providers delay care or forgo it altogether.[1] For those in the field, knowing the right language to use can be both beneficial and comforting to their patients.

[1] https://www.urban.org/research/publication/most-adults-who-feel-treated-or-judged-unfairly-health-care-providers-report-adverse-consequences?utm_source=STAT+Newsletters&utm_campaign=17f75fec8e-MR_COPY_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8cab1d7961-17f75fec8e-150240017