This week, about 1,500 people are gathering in Seattle to take part in the 16th annual Gender Odyssey conference, which brings together transgender kids, adults and their families and gives them an opportunity to talk about issues they face.
Among them will be Joe Maldonado, a 9-year-old transgender boy from New Jersey who successfully challenged the Boy Scouts’ ban on accepting trans kids.
Maldonado has a simple reason why he wanted to join the Scouts.
“Because I love camping,” he said.
His mom Kristie signed him up for a Cub Scout troop in their hometown of Secaucus.
“Everything seemed fine and then six weeks later, I got a call from the northern branch out of the blue saying he could no longer be in the Scouts,” she said.
She said she later learned that other parents had raised concerns about where he would go to the bathroom and where he would sleep and shower during camping trips.
Outraged, she said she went to the press and filed a discrimination complaint in New Jersey. Then she got a call from the Boy Scouts of America saying he would be readmitted.
The organization changed its policy to accept kids based on the gender they mark on their application, saying the switch was warranted because “communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary from state to state.”
Joe Maldonado was born a girl but now identifies as a boy. He said it’s important to have opportunities such as this conference in Seattle for transgender people to come together.
“Since we are transgender, we’re educated and we know about it, and to make the world a better place and make it a safer place for other transgenders,” he said.
Kristie Maldonado said she didn’t know much about transgender issues before she had Joe. Now, she’s learned to become an advocate.
“You have to worry about your own child, how they’re feeling, and not be concerned about other people,” she said. “Whether they like it or not, they’re not living in our life.”
The Gender Odyssey conference begins Wednesday with sessions for medical caregivers, therapists, educators and other professionals who work with transgender people.