A Wichita North High School teacher was named the Educator of the Year by GLSEN, an organization that creates safe schools for LGBTQ youth.
The goal of Stephanie Byers’ classes is to create good music and to teach students about equality.
“She’s always found a way to you know like open us up and make sure we share what our problems are and you know to respect others,” explained Angel Hernandez, a student of Byers.
Byers has led music classes at North High since 1991. While she has dozens of awards for music, it’s her most recent one that leaves a different impact.
“I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around it,” said Byers “It’s very different.”
Byers came out as transgender in 2014.
It’s something she talked about with her students on the first day of classes after the transition.
“I said ‘here’s what you need to know: it was Mr. Byers, now it’s Ms. Byers.’ Most of you just call me Byers and that still works,” said Byers.
Since then, Byers has spoken at the state capitol as well as other schools in the area about helping create a positive environment for LGBTQ students.
“Hopefully seeing someone who’s stepping out in that role helps them feel more comfortable in being who they are, maybe take some of the fear out of it,” said Byers.
While Byers is retiring after one more year, she says her efforts are just beginning.
“Being able to reach out to other people, and especially in an educational setting, and say let’s talk about how you could be affirming to people in the LGBTQ community if you were at school,” added Byers.
Byers said she would like to see a uniform set of guidelines across the country that would encourage equality of LGBTQ students in the classroom.
She will be receiving her award on May 21 in New York City.