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Embracing the transgender community - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Embracing the transgender community

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SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. -

The Vermont Law School is celebrating milestones when it comes to transgender rights in the Green Mountains.

The school is dedicating the month of April to the issue. People in the transgender community say more work is needed in the name of equality.

Gabriella Netsch loves her career as an educator. A job she has had in Vermont for 32 years.

"We're both women, I just got here differently than you did," Netsch said.

But Gabriella, born Gary, started her career and lived most of her life as a man. She says she realized at a very young age that she identified with the female gender.

"I would pull my sheets over my head and I would say, 'God, can I just try being a girl? I think I'm supposed to be a girl,'" Netsch said.

As an adult she started efforts to appear female, including electrolysis, laser therapy, hormone therapy, and a testosterone blocker. Her church had a renaming ceremony for her and she got her Vermont drivers license indicating the gender she identifies with. She says the Green Mountain State is a great place to be transgender.

"Vermont's come a long long way, such a long way," Netsch said. 

Governor Shumlin agrees and spoke at the Vermont Law School this week as part of its 'Sex, Gender, Expression and the 1st Amendment' Project. The program consists of several events through April including a photography exhibit. Project creator Taylor Curtis wants to take the conversation about transgender rights to the next level.

"We've had some serious victories, within the queer movement, as of late, I think I think that there's still a lot that the community needs to do," Curtis said.

Vermont joined three other states last year when regulators issued a mandate that insurers operating within the state cover all medically necessary procedures for transgender people, including gender-reassignment surgery. Curtis says the community needs more, such as leave time from work for surgeries and more non-discriminatory policies that allow transgender people to dress in a way and use a restroom that is consistent with their gender identity.

"We really want to encourage conversation that challenges the status quo understanding of sexuality and identity," Curtis said.

Kaiya Willis was born and raised in Rutland as "Keith" and just last year the 27-year-old began hormone treatments.

The engineer says the Marble City has embraced her identity.

"I have actually been approached by people I didn't even know, just to tell me that I'm brave," Willis said.

Still she thinks the conversation on transgender rights needs to continue and policies need to reflect a community that she says can't be put into a single category.

"It's a spectrum, it's a rainbow. There's so many different variations, you can't define them all," Willis said.

Both Willis and Netsch say they feel that is the single biggest misconception about the transgender community and needs to be addressed in order for more progress to be made.

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