While many students prepare for new classes, choose their polished outfits, and look forward to reconnecting with old friends, students like Leonardo “Leo” Hinnant have another challenge that takes transitioning into a new school year to a whole new level. He’s a trans man starting his 10th-grade year at the Dekalb School of the Arts in Decatur, but for the past two years, he’s been adjusting to a new life as a teen. From hormone therapy to his school’s cooperation in calling him by his identified gender, Leo and his mother, Stephanie, have had their struggles that would discourage any student and parent. Through it all, Leo’s still excelling in school, taking on extra-curricular activities, and leading his school’s GSA organization to higher heights in acceptance and diversity. We sat down with the two to talk about those struggles and triumphs throughout this journey!

Georgia Voice: When did you come out as trans?

Leo: “I came out as trans the summer before 8th grade. I came out right after I left 7th grade. It was early June of 2017.”
Did you plan to transition when you went on summer break? Leo: “I kind of started exploring and doing gender expansion stuff before the summer. In the middle of April, I started talking to my friends at school. I told them I don’t think that I’m a girl so if you could call me this and use these pronouns for me. I started to realize this was what I want and this is how I actually feel.”

Was it difficult socially to make this transition at such a young age?

Leo: “It was kind of a roller coaster. At first, my friends were receptive and accepting. Then there was a point where I was bullied by an old friend. It caused other problems. It was an up and down roller coaster at my old school. I still hadn’t fully come out yet, so it was a personal struggle of mine.”

Did it make it easier going back into a new school year after transitioning?

Leo: “The interesting thing is the current school 8th grade through 12th grade, so I was going to my old school from my 1st up to my 7th-grade year. Over the summer, I came out fully to myself and my parents. I also started socially transitioning. When I entered my 8th-grade year, I was living fully as a male.”

For you to see this transition happen, what were your thoughts when he came out as trans? Where you nervous for this transition?

Stephanie: “I just wanted to, as a parent, be
sure what this is. This could be an evolution for kids at this age because it wasn’t trans a first, it was non-binary. My whole thing this entire time has been that I’m your parent, I love you, I’m here to support you, what do you need from me, how can I help you, and I love you for who you are.”

Were you worried about bullying at all?

Stephanie: “A part of me was but the school he goes to is an arts school and we’re in Decatur, so it’s more progressive. I was not as worried as I would’ve been if he was going to a school outside the perimeter.”

If you would’ve lived outside of the Atlanta metro area, do you think you would’ve transitioned the way you did?

Leo: “I think I would’ve been a lot more hesitant. I don’t think I would’ve felt comfortable doing it. I don’t think I could’ve gone to a public school in an area like that before I fully transitioned. If you’re not fully transitioned, there can be slip-ups and it’s hard to live in a school system where the administration and county aren’t receptive of who you are. I probably would live my life as a female not because I wanted to but for my safety.”

Was it easy to work with the school district to help make Leo’s transition easier? Were they open and accepting?

Stephanie: “They were not in some ways and were in others. Let’s just say I had a meeting with the principal in April of his 8th-grade year and I just heard back in April of his 9th-grade year that he can use the bathroom that aligns with his gender. There were other things that I met with the principal for which she was not receptive at first or her default was, ‘I have to talk to the county.’ The thing about his school is that the faculty and students are very accepting, they have a huge GSA population that actively meets. It wasn’t the school or the kids, it was the administration that was lacking.”

What are some words of advice and encouragement for parents who may be following in your footsteps?

Stephanie: “There is strength in numbers. If you have someone else going through the same situation or you attend PFLAG meetings or other ways to get support, it can help you through it. You are your child’s biggest advocate. You have to know your rights and their rights. Continue to convey that to the administration or to anybody who will listen. For me too, it’s not just for Leo but for those who come after them that deserves that same respect. It makes me sad that there were kids before Leo that didn’t get that same respect.”

What can you tell students like yourself going through a transition at such a young age? What can they do to be true to themselves and stay strong?

Leo: “I would say, just try to find as many resources as you can because even though I came out, attended every GSA meeting at school and am now GSA co-president, you still need support through individuals. Find teachers or faculty that you can talk to because you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re struggling by yourself. You have a base on how to come out to people and have the opportunity to explore how you feel. Find people you can trust, and lean on them.”

How do you plan to create a more diverse and accepting environment through your experience in transitioning?

Leo: “My school has had almost a complete administration reboot. Our principal retired and others in the administration left. As GSA co-president talking to the new administration and asking them questions about how they feel about LGBTQ rights and what are their stances, how are they going to protect and serve LGBTQ students just as much as everybody else? I’m not fully done transitioning, so it’s going to be extremely impactful and hard on the school year. There’s probably going to be changes that have to be made until that transition is fully done. I feel like if I’m not fully done transitioning, everybody else isn’t fully done adjusting and changing in my transition.”

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