Catherine Hyde is the mother of a transgender student, Will… (Doug Kapustin, Baltimore…)
When a photo of a guy dressed in women's clothing suddenly flashed on the screen near the end of an intense slide show on teenage drunken driving, Will Gullucci felt humiliated.
Gullucci, a Marriotts Ridge High School senior who had "come out" as a transgender person just two years ago and is leading her life as a girl, listened as her fellow seniors laughed loudly. After all the serious shots of drunken teens and car accidents, the larger-than-life photo seemed gratuitous to Gullucci.
"I said, 'Someone better get that photo off the screen, like now,'" Gullucci recalled. She thought the image was inserted for comic relief.
She approached the county police officer who'd given the presentation to tell him what she thought of it, Gullucci said, but soon realized she "may as well have been talking to a brick wall."
Gullucci's mother, Catherine Hyde, said she was disturbed by the description of the presentation, so she contacted the Police Department to complain.
Hyde said it was difficult to understand her child's early attraction to Barbie dolls and tutus and then to girls' clothing and makeup in recent years. She acknowledges that the family struggled with the child's identity for more than a decade. Hyde realizes that some people in the community are now having similar problems understanding transgender people, and she wants to help educate them.
Hyde's initial call to county police set in motion a series of conversations that eventually led to the department's decision to incorporate transgender issues into training for the entire police force.
And since she has become an active volunteer with the Columbia-Howard County chapter of the national support group for Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Hyde has also been working with the county school system to make sure staff members are prepared to protect transgender students from bullying.
"I had a transgender person living in my home for 15 years and didn't recognize it, and so I understood their ignorance," she said of her conversation with police. "And they have been amazingly responsive."
Gullucci, who is 17 and hasn't changed her first name, said she's comfortable in her own skin now that she's living as a transgender person.
Transgender is a term applied to males or females whose identity conflicts with their physical gender, Hyde said, but it is not connected to sexual orientation. Little statistical data exists on the number of transgender people, according to the website of the Human Rights Commission.
"I'm called all kinds of typical names, but I just focus on what I think of me and what my friends think of me," Gullucci said. "The rest is like water; it rolls off my back. I'm going to live my life and have fun."
Describing her fashion sense as a mixture of "'80s and current club scene," Gullucci said she now performs monthly as a drag queen named "Whitney Gucci Goo" at a Washington restaurant. She lip-synchs and dances to music by Ke$ha and Lady Gaga in over-the-top makeup and glittery costumes.
But long before these outward transformations were allowed to take place, she said, she had "fought my parents every step of the way." She still experiences depression and anxiety.
"Everything changed when my mother started being more open with me, and then I could be more open with her," Gullucci said.
Their household has been "quieter, happier and more productive" than it has in many years now that Gullucci is at peace, Hyde said. There were dark times before reaching this point together, she stressed.
"We put Will through torture because we didn't know any better — and neither did the psychologist who told us to keep pushing boy's toys," Hyde said.
Hyde decided shortly after Gullucci began living openly as a girl to become the local transgender network coordinator for PFLAG. Eight other parents of transgender children ranging in age from 3 to 26 are members of the organization, she said. But many transgender adults live their lives in secret, afraid of becoming targets of hate crimes or discrimination, she said.
At this Tuesday's meeting, PFLAG will create a video containing comments and stories from local residents about their special challenges in the community; the video will be delivered to county police for possible use in sensitivity training.
More than 440 full-time police officers will learn about transgender individuals during in-service sessions that will take place daily throughout most of March until everyone has taken part, said Sherry Llewellyn, a Howard police representative.
Hyde said, "I told the Police Department, 'I don't want to fight you or be a thorn in your side. I just want to make the world a safer place for people like my daughter.'"
Llewellyn said that adding transgender education — which is being handled in a two-hour PowerPoint presentation — is an example of the department's emphasis on diversity training, which already covers gay and lesbian issues.