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He is Milan

At the age of 12, Milan Halikowski has already developed the habit of walking into a room and bracing himself for some form of attack. Born female, Milan has identified as a male since he could talk, said mother Lynnell Halikowski.
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Milan Halikowski, 12, with advocates Ley Fraser and Rachel Bates, is raising money to attend Gender Odyssey this summer in Seattle - a conference for families with gender-nonconforming or transgender children.

At the age of 12, Milan Halikowski has already developed the habit of walking into a room and bracing himself for some form of attack.

Born female, Milan has identified as a male since he could talk, said mother Lynnell Halikowski.

"He was very persistent with anyone who tried to tell him differently," she said.

But having that certainty within himself wasn't enough for those outside his family. Going back as far as he can remember, Milan has stories about fellow students and even teachers harassing, ridiculing and bullying him for being different.

"People aren't willing or capable of learning and people don't want to learn because they think it's different, strange, or not interesting, so their response is to be mean," said Milan.

Homophobic or transphobic slurs, teachers meting out consequences for using the "wrong" washroom and being targeted when playing sports are just a sample of Milan's average worries.

The bullying and violence escalated to such an extreme level that he was pulled from school for a year last spring.

This summer Milan and his mother are hoping to take advantage of an opportunity to spend a few days in a more welcoming environment.

They've started a crowdfunding campaign to attend Gender Odyssey Family, a three-day conference in mid-August in Seattle, Wash., for families "who are working to navigate the day-to-day realities of raising a gender-nonconforming or transgender child," according to the event's website.

Attending the conference would give the Halikowski family a moment to exhale, they explained.

"I can learn stuff from other people and ask questions and can actually relate to people," said Milan. "It would be kind of like a break from being bullied and not being myself around people."

Constantly in a state of hyper-vigilance for her child's safety, Lynnell said she just wants to watch Milan have a chance to properly be a kid.

"It would be amazing to walk into a room for the first time in his life and know someone's not going to be calling you a faggot, calling you he-she or it," she said.

Rachel Bates and Ley Fraser are also attending the professional branch of the Seattle conference. The pair co-founded Transform, a non-profit organization offering trans and non-binary youth and family support.

They've been volunteering as advocates and intermediaries for the Halikowskis and other families in their dealings with the schools and School District 57.

"They've literally saved Milan's life," said Lynnell, who left her job as a sexual assault counsellor to care for Milan when he left school.

The Indiegogo campaign is aiming to raise $5,000 to cover travel, accommodation and registration costs in Seattle as well as Vancouver, where Milan and his mother would stop on the way home for trans-specific medical appointments at B.C. Children's Hospital. Any money raised in excess of what's needed would be put to future trips to the Vancouver clinic, which Milan needs to visit every few months.

When Milan left school, part of his time away was to allow for the school to develop a safety plan to prevent further incidents.

That plan is lacking, according to Lynnell. Fraser and Bates agreed that the district's LGBTQ policy leaves much to be desired.

School board trustees approved the new document in February and it is intended to protect members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community from bullying.

It sets out regulations such as learning environments being free of homophobic language and behaviour and for employees to be sensitive to "individual discriminatory attitudes and behaviours" towards LGBTQ individuals.

Milan decided to be open about being transgendered, coming out to his classmates in a bid to help them understand. It was a move Lynnell thought was risky.

"But [Milan said] 'what else can they do me they haven't already done?'" she recalled.

In addition to having to chance to let his hair down, the conference will also equip Milan and his mother with tools to help others.

"The lack of education up here means Milan has to individually educate everyone he meets," said Fraser.

When asked, Milan tells people that being transgender means "you're born in the wrong body and your inner self is trying to match your outer self."

And while it may be frustrating to have to constantly explain yourself, Milan is eager for the chance to make a difference down the road and be a role model.

"I'm just trying to educate myself and help educate others," he said. "People aren't accepting at all in this town and I don't think that's fair."

The Indiegogo campaign wraps up July 17. For more information, or to donate, visit: http://pgc.cc/1vXsxTZ or search for Milan's Gender Odyssey on Indiegogo.com or Facebook.