Class Notes: Vancouver transgendered student makes history as class valedictorian

(Editors note: this story has been altered since it first appeared online June 21)

Vancouvers first openly transgendered valedictorian will speak at his schools graduation July 25.

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Theo Cultum garnered twice as many votes as each of the other three students in the running for two valedictorian spots for the alternative school Total Ed.

I was so proud and really very heartfelt that the graduating class was able to vote for a student that they cared about, not about a students sexuality, said Sue Monti, youth and family worker and the safe contact for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer students at Total Ed. Im proud of Theo but Im almost more proud that the students made that choice... Gay is one thing, but transgendered is a whole other element that I think a lot of people in general just dont understand.

Cultum felt very proud of myself and very honoured to be chosen.

I really didnt think that they looked up to in me such a way, he said.

Cultum was in a dark place for Grades 7 to 9 and in Grade 10, he dropped out of school. Then known as Tayah, he was struggling with traumatic events that occurred in his early teens, depression, drug and alcohol addiction and questioning his sexual orientation and gender identity.

He enrolled in Total Ed in September 2010 and completed treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

The people at this school have really given me a lot of confidence and courage and hope is the big one there, Cultum said. Just by accepting me for who I was and encouraging me that its OK to express myself in any way that I feel is myself.

The just over 100 students at Total Ed dont often get to hear guest speakers, but a visit by Jeremy Dias of Jers Vision, Canadas Youth Diversity Initiative inspired them to take action.

Monti says one-fifth of Total Ed students participate in its gay-straight alliance and photos from this years Pink Day against bullying, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia illustrate how enthusiastic students were about its message.

Monti thinks Total Eds 32 Grade 12 students voted overwhelmingly for Cultum because hes outgoing and full of energy, a far cry from how worthless and hopeless he felt in the past.

Monti believes Total Ed helps students succeed by providing the feeling of an extended family and abundant support.

Mainstream schools have counsellors. Their lists are 300-plus students. We have three youth and family workers and our lists are 30 students, she said, adding offering multiple student groups for a small population gives every student a place to belong.

Cultum worked with the other valedictorian, Ben Wick, on their speeches Wednesday.

I definitely feel like I need to thank the people at this school for their patience for really being there for me when I needed it because I have been through a lot and I really dont think that I would be in this position that I am now without the support of this school, he said.

crossi@vancourier.com

twitter.com/Cheryl_Rossi

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