Transgendered student makes history as class valedictorian

Vancouver Courier, BC, USA
By Cheryl Rossi, Vancouver Courier

Vancouver‘ s first openly transgendered valedictorian will speak at his
school’s graduation July 25. 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
student’ s sexuality,” said Sue Monti, youth and family worker and the
safe contact for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer students at
Total Ed. “I’ m proud of Theo but I’m 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 don’t
understand.”

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

“I really didn’t 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 it’s OK to express
myself in any way that I feel is myself.”

The just over 100 students at Total Ed don’t often get to hear guest
speakers, but a visit by Jeremy Dias of Jer’s Vision, Canada‘s 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 year’s Pink Day against
bullying, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia illustrate how
enthusiastic students were about its message.

Monti thinks Total Ed’s 32 Grade 12 students voted overwhelmingly for
Cultum because he’s 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 Wilks, 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 don’t think that I would be in
this position that I am now without the support of this school,” he
said.

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