Juneau author and educator Aidan Key smiles for a photo in the Mendenhall Valley Wednesday morning. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Juneau author and educator Aidan Key smiles for a photo in the Mendenhall Valley Wednesday morning. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Juneau author’s debut book on supporting transgender students gains national recognition

Aidan Key’s “Trans Children In Today’s Schools” offers guidance in face of anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

When Juneau author and educator Aidan Key began writing what is now his debut book “Trans Children In Today’s Schools” nearly a decade ago, he thought his book would be one of the many books that would provide a roadmap and comprehensive look at gender-diverse youth and how to best support them.

He was mistaken.

Instead, his book released in late June hit the shelves at a time when LGBTQ+ rights, and more specifically transgender rights, are being rolled back across the country and Alaska — and books very much like his own are being taken off or threatened to be taken off shelves.

Despite that, in just a few short weeks his book has already claimed the title as “#1 bestseller in education” on Amazon and he was recently featured for an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, a show which reaches nearly 5 million listeners each week.

Key is a transgender man raised in Juneau who returned during the pandemic after four decades away. He said he aimed to create a book that discussed and answered questions he has been asked all too often by parents and educators of gender-questioning children.

This is a photo of Juneau author and educator Aidan Key’s debut book “Trans Children In Today’s Schools.” (Courtesy / Aidan Key)

This is a photo of Juneau author and educator Aidan Key’s debut book “Trans Children In Today’s Schools.” (Courtesy / Aidan Key)

Questions like “Aren’t these children too young to know who they are?” “What if they changed their mind?” “What if this is a phase?”

Key, who is also the founder of Gender Diversity, a national organization providing education to K-12 schools across the US, said having resources out in the world that allow educators and administrators to mull over those questions without the influence of politics, instead relying on evidence-based research, real-life stories and tools is the key to navigating the complex landscape of gender identity in schools and how to best support students.

Juneau author and educator Aidan Key smiles for a photo in the Mendenhall Valley Wednesday morning. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Juneau author and educator Aidan Key smiles for a photo in the Mendenhall Valley Wednesday morning. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

“My very consistent experience is that people are intimidated by this topic — and especially if we’re talking about gender differences with respect to children,” he said. “These conversations need to be thoughtful, they take time and they’re worthy of that time. My hope is that people want to engage in that conversation so that they can ask their questions, and they can put their thoughts on the table because that’s how you move through things together.”

He said while he was growing up in Alaska tools and open discussion about navigating gender identity did not happen or even exist yet. For a long time he felt alone and lost in his identity, leading him to force down who he truly was for decades.

“I felt this gender difference in myself, and I didn’t know how to put words to it and I just felt really alone in that, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to anybody about it at all — so I just didn’t,” he said. “I did my best to package it up and stuff it down, so it wasn’t until my early 30s that felt I had to address this because I was not living a truthful life, living an authentic life — I was basically pretending to be somebody else.”

Key said the feelings he felt decades ago shouldn’t need to be the case for children today, and increasing visibility and resources on the topic can share a more positive and authentic picture of what it means to be transgender or gender questioning in Alaska, and across the country.

However, the conversation on the topic at a political level in Alaska in recent years has been grim.

Recently the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development opened a public comment period on a proposal that would ban transgender females from participating in girls’ high school sports in the state, a ban the board previously indicated its support of when it passed a surprise resolution asking the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to implement the policy.

The board could potentially vote on the new regulation at its next scheduled meeting on July 26. If enacted immediately, it could be in place before the new school year begins.

The Alaska Legislature this year attempted to pass bills enacting similar bans during the past three sessions, unsuccessfully, with the issue surfacing during this year’s session with a broader bill imposing strict limits on sex and gender references for all public school matters.

Key said the actions and conversations happening politically only instill fear and isolation for the children and families going through something like this.

“There are families from all political walks of life, all faith backgrounds, all cultural communities, who have these kids, and they’re all scared — they’re all terrified,” he said. “It’s very disappointing to see it be made into a political football game instead of putting those fears and questions, concerns on the table for discussion, rather than avoiding them.

He continued: “I say, ‘let’s chat about that’ — because kids go through phases. So let’s find out how we help support them in their personal journey, their exploration, their learning and how we support that in a way that really helps them feel heard and validated, while also allowing for them to shift gears in their process of discovery.”

Key said he hopes his book can serve as a tool for educators that are confronting the challenges of gender inclusion and how to best ensure a transgender student has access to a learning environment free from discrimination.

“We need to step into that learning for the sake of our kids and grandkids,” he said. “We need love in our hearts, we need inquisitiveness, we need to listen — we need to talk human to human.”

Key’s book “Trans Children In Today’s Schools” can be found on popular bookselling websites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and it is expected on shelves of local bookstores in the coming weeks, he said. Key will also be guest speaker for a “Transgender Town Hall” hosted by City and Borough of Juneau Human Rights Commission a part of its “Creating Greater Gender Inclusion in the Juneau Community” series.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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