LAHS grad blazes a trail with campus transgender advocacy

Courtesy of Kathleen Schwartz
Skyler Riordan’s work with Los Altos High administrators led to greater support for transgender students.

When Skyler Riordan walked into Los Altos High School assistant principal Suzanne Woolfolk’s office his freshman year, he wasn’t looking to be an activist or change school policy. Instead, Riordan simply wanted to make sure the school was going to be able to accommodate his needs as a transgender student.

However, by asking for the assistance he needed, Riordan also helped the school develop gender support plans, which other trans students now use.

Riordan asked that administrators change his name in the school’s system to reflect his chosen name, Skyler, rather than the name he was given at birth.

“When I went in and asked for them to change my name, I wasn’t doing it to be the first,” Riordan said. “I was doing it because I wanted this.”

It was important to him that school staff called him by the correct name and used male pronouns. Although he said no administrator objected to changing his name in the system, it turned out to be a technically complex process. It took months to get everything correctly switched over, Riordan said.

To ensure teachers used the correct name, he went into classes early to talk with teachers and make sure the right name was called during attendance.

Gender is a fundamental part of how people construct their identity, Riordan said. Ensuring that school staff respected his gender identity was an important part of making it possible for him to focus on his classes.

“It’s not something I want to worry about,” he said. “I just want to be a male person, I don’t want to have to think about it.”

For Woolfolk, working with Riordan helped her to better understand the needs of transgender students. When Woolfolk came to Los Altos High from San Mateo High in 2014, there wasn’t a formal process to support trans students.

Now, a gender support plan can cover many different areas of the high school experience – everything from the name and pronoun students adopt to which bathrooms they want to use and identifying an adult on campus they can talk to if they feel unsafe.

“Skye really helped me work out what worked here,” Woolfolk said. “Skye helped me think about those things.”

Ultimately, for Riordan, it is important that transgender students are able to go to school on an even playing field with their cisgender classmates, a term for those who are not trans.

“I think life can be challenging in so many other ways, that people want to start at the same level as everyone else,” he said. “Going through school … cis people are starting from a place where they have less to worry about.”

Throughout high school, Riordan has acted in a number of plays both in and out of school. During his sophomore year, he was a member of the school’s Broken Box Theatre Company. He has also acted in a number of Los Altos Youth Theatre productions.

His roles have included the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland,” John Brooke in “Little Women” and Mr. MacAfee in “Bye, Bye Birdie.”

After coming out in eighth grade, Riordan began auditioning for male roles. His various performances have helped him to explore what it means to be a man.

“I can explore masculinity through all of the roles that I play, just like people can explore emotions, and different lives and different circumstances through the roles they play,” he said.

Riordan will attend Foothill College and study theater arts, with plans to continue his studies at a four-year university.

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