For many high school seniors, each day is accompanied by a countdown to graduation, the day of freedom, but for Jack Einstein, high school senior and founder of the I AM HUMAN Project, his schoolwork won’t end upon graduation. In many ways, it’s just beginning, and countless students will benefit from his work and advocacy. Read on for our interview with Jack Einstein.
You’re listed as a GLSEN NYCR Youth Board Member. What does GLSEN do and what do you do as one of their youth board members?
GLSEN stands for the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network. As a youth board member I work to engage youth in LGBT-oriented activities and events in the capital region. Most of these events are hosted by the Pride Center in Albany, New York. GLSEN NYCR works with schools in the capital region to educate teachers on LGBT student rights through workshops and trainings.
Why did you choose GLSEN as a way to actualize upon your humanity in service to others?
I have been involved with GLSEN since 9th grade when I first started attending GLSEN Youth Pride every month at Professor Java’s, a local coffee shop. There I met many people who were going through similar experiences to my own, but were not as vocal about obtaining rights for themselves. This is around when I decided I wanted to work with GLSEN to create change in my community by humanizing the transgender experience. I talked to teachers and administration about what they could do to make life easier for myself and any transgender student after me.
What is the I AM HUMAN Project?
The I AM HUMAN Project is a way for peers to support their transgender classmates. Students at Shaker High School, Shaker Junior High School, and Hoosick Falls High School received I AM HUMAN stickers with the transgender symbol in the middle and were encouraged to wear them throughout the school day. Many transgender students were excited that so many of their cisgender (those who identify with their sex at birth) peers decided to wear the sticker in support.
The project was designed to open up communication between students and faculty as they ask questions about what the symbol means or what it means to be transgender. Later on, students should be invited to a presentation on the I AM HUMAN Project and its goals.
How did the I AM HUMAN Project come about?
The project was a product of a Human Rights Advocacy project. I had wanted to make a project that benefited the transgender community and this assignment made it possible. After the success in my own high school, I was invited to speak at NYSUT’s (New York State United Teachers) Civil and Human Rights Committee.
The project took off after they decided to introduce the project to AFT (American Federation of Teachers). This will take place in a few weeks. In the meantime, I will be spreading the project to nearby schools such as Albany High and Hoosick Falls.
What are your short- and long-term goals with both GLSEN and the I AM HUMAN Project?
Short-term, as a GLSEN representative, I plan to speak at this year’s Breaking the Silence event on the I AM HUMAN Project. This event is attended by several hundred youth each year, and I hope they will be motivated to take action. I also plan to speak at this year’s QSA (Queer Straight Alliance) Retreat, hosted by the Pride Center and GLSEN and Camp Unirondack.
Long-term, I plan to make the I AM HUMAN Project national. NYSUT is working on proposing the idea to AFT. A proposal has also been sent to GLSEN National, but we haven’t received anything back yet. I have also sent in my story and the project to organizations like GLAAD and HRC, but have yet to hear anything as well.
Who in your life has been an inspiration? How did this person show you what it meant to be a human acting to the benefit of humanity?
James Shultis has been an inspiration for me. He was the first, real, live-adult trans persons I met. He works with youth all day, and creates safe spaces for them to be themselves. He truly makes living that much easier for those who need support. He also showed my parents that transgender people can have successful and full lives free from hatred. We’re all human and he makes that clear, especially when he speaks to administrations.
Meet At Human reached out to James Shultis, Director of Programs at the Pride Center of the Capital Region and Board Co-Chair for GLSEN-New York Capital Region Chapter, and he had this to say about Einstein and his work:
“Jack is a fierce advocate for trans and gender non-conforming youth in the Capital Region of NY. His passion for equality and justice shines through with his I AM HUMAN Project. I can’t wait to see where this project and others he is a part of in the future will take him and our communities.”
What experiences have you had that shaped you into being the person you are today?
The discrimination I received in high school is what pushed me into being an active advocate for transgender rights. I was denied access to the men’s bathroom even though I passed as male and would have made others uncomfortable in the women’s bathroom. I used the men’s bathroom anyway, and was later told that was “disrespectful” of me. As if I had no right to use the bathroom, as if I were a second-class citizen.
I tried to have my name changed on school rosters, but that was refused as well. Instead, I was kicked out of classes when substitutes did not believe me when they called my name. I stopped saying, “Here,” and was marked absent when a teacher was absent.
I knew I needed to do something not only for myself, but for any transgender student that would walk the halls after me. I started talking to the building principal on a regular basis about transgender student rights. Early on I was told, “We’ve never had an issue with trans students before.” This told me that no trans person before me had a voice, and I was determined to fix that.
I worked tirelessly for almost four years, and have secured the right for transgender students to use the bathroom they prefer. I am also currently working with our assistant superintendent Mrs. Skeals on rewriting the policy for transgender students, which includes allowing students to access any bathroom they feel comfortable in, with an option of new gender-neutral bathrooms, and changing names and gender markers in school rosters without parental permission.
Thea MacFawn, a National Board Certified English Teacher at Shaker High School, said the following about Einstein’s advocacy in schools:
“All students deserve to attend school free from discrimination and harassment. For transgender students across the nation, this is often not the case. GLSEN, in its 2013 school climate survey, reports that almost 75 percent of transgender students have been verbally harassed, and one-in-three have been physically assaulted.
Jack’s campaign raises awareness about transgender rights and creates space for open dialogue about the treatment of transgender students in schools. Through education and days of action to show support, his advocacy has helped make our school a more welcoming environment for all students. The I AM HUMAN Project is a step towards equality.”
What was a first experience for you of doing something for someone else? What did you take away from this experience?
My first experience in serving others started in 9th grade when I became the president of our Gay Straight Alliance. I found myself responsible for creating a safe environment for all LGBT+ identified youth by talking to teachers and other students on behalf of those who are not able to speak for themselves. From this, I found that activism and advocacy would be a large part of my life. I find it harder and harder to look away from someone in need and try my best to help anyone and everyone. Everyone has a different story, and just because you can’t see their story visibly doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
What is it that drives you? What keeps you working toward your goals?
What drives me is breaking down stereotypes. I refuse to be marginalized by society, and I want to show that transgender people have a voice and are willing to use it. I want people to know we exist, that we are not a rare spectacle, and that everyone has met a transgender person.
What do you hope your work does for others?
I hope that my work educates those who are ignorant, and creates a platform for those who have no voice in their community.
For people who may feel lost, on the wrong track, or just not there yet, what is your advice to them on how they can help others?
Find something that matters to you. Everyone is passionate about something but may not have realized what it is yet. Go online and read some news articles on various human/civil rights topics and see if any stand out to you.
If you have the opportunity, you can also volunteer at homeless shelters or even programs where you entertain the elderly a couple times a week. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but those you help in those small acts will see that as the highlight of their day. Every small act counts.
Calls to action:
By T. Bartlett, Meet At Human
(Images courtesy of I AM HUMAN Project website and social media.)