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January 10, 2018

A teacher in front of her classroom. She is wearing a pronoun button and her computer has a Safe Space Sticker on it.

Educators across the country are reporting pushback for displaying LGBTQ-supportive materials, such as GLSEN’s Safe Space Sticker, in their classrooms. It is important that this be addressed, and that everyone involved in the school community--from administrators to family members--understand the importance of these seemingly small symbols of support.

GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit materials have been curated to equip educators with the information and resources they need in order to best support and understand LGBTQ students in their schools. The posters and stickers within the kit specifically aim to increase educators’ capacity to be a visible ally and support to LGBTQ students on an interpersonal level. In the Safe Space Kit guide, educators are reminded, “One of the most important parts of being an ally to LGBTQ students is making yourself known as an ally. In order to come to you for help, students need to be able to recognize you as an ally.”

According to GLSEN’s latest National School Climate Survey, which reports on the experiences of LGBTQ young people in schools, nearly 9 in 10 LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school. Allies can play a critical role in identifying the bullying and exclusion of LGBTQ students, and some of the most important allies are educators. Holding the dual position of controlling classroom environments, and often having a voice to advocate on LGBTQ students’ behalf to school administration, educators maintain an invaluable role in creating positive learning environments. They are also the direct actors in implementing LGBTQ content in class curricula or serving as a faculty advisor for students to formally organize supportive groups on campus.

One of the most integral parts of educators acting as allies is making themselves known as allies. GLSEN’s research shows that, even if students do not approach publicly allied teachers, just knowing that they have them as a support system in the school can have positive educational outcomes for LGBTQ students.  When educators display LGBTQ-affirming stickers or posters in their classrooms, there are a variety of positive effects for LGBTQ students. Our research shows that students who had seen a Safe Space sticker or poster in their school were more likely to identify school staff who were supportive of LGBTQ students and more likely to feel comfortable talking with school staff about LGBTQ issues.  Having supportive staff is a tremendous support for LGBTQ youth.

Looking at students with 11 or more supportive staff members, versus those without any supportive staff members, students with this level of support were less likely to feel unsafe (40.6% vs. 78.7%), less likely to miss school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable (16.9% vs. 47.2%), had higher GPAs (3.3 vs. 2.8), and were less likely to say they might not graduate high school (1.7% vs. 9.5%). Overall, students who had supportive staff by their side reported higher perceptions of safety and overall academic performance, creating a better school environment for all.

In order for these students to feel safer in our schools and reach their full potential, they need to know that we see and support them in their entirety. Allowing educators to be visible in their allyship towards LGBTQ students is an imperative support to ensure that all students have an affirming learning environment. Bringing GLSEN’s Safe Space Stickers to schools is just the first step in establishing trust with students, letting them know that educators are there for them, and that they belong.

Becca Mui is GLSEN’s Education Manager.

January 08, 2018

A student holding a sign that says "I am strong, trans, and proud!"

In preparation for GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week, we asked students to tell us the labels and identities that they hold and want to be called. Self-identification can be empowering, and it can be hurtful when people use labels that don't match the ones we choose ourselves. These students are making a statement against name-calling and bullying by encouraging people not to use slurs or stereotypes, but to call their peers by the names that they identify with and give others permission to use.

You can put #KindnessInAction by calling people the names they WANT to be called. Want to share how you identify? Join the conversation by posting your own sign with the names you WANT to be called. Make sure to use #KindnessInAction and tag @glsenoffical on Twitter and Instagram! 

To get involved with No Name-Calling Week, and to get free streaming of LGBTQ-inclusive classroom documentaries, register here!

 

#KindnessInAction I am a very strong, very brown, very gay flower boi 

A post shared by Kian Elijah They/He (@flamboyant._.flautist) on Dec 11, 2017 at 4:34pm PST

Don't forget to register for No Name-Calling Week for free streaming of LGBTQ-inclusive classroom documentaries!

January 08, 2018

Students in a GSA working together

As you undoubtedly already know, Puerto Rico was struck by a powerful Category 5 hurricane on September 20, and people remain struggling, many without running water, food, and power. The last few months have left the community in destruction, as it works towards rebuilding. Puerto Rican students are left struggling, both here on the mainland and those still living in Puerto Rico.

There continues to be many needs to fill on the island. Besides the most basic needs caused by the hurricane, there are cries from the community for those in positions of power to recognize the history of Puerto Rico, the colonization of the land, and the “othering” of Puerto Ricans—that is, some of the root causes that have influenced the lack of response by the U.S. government. There is need to address both current and historical trauma.

To our Puerto Rican family, those here on the mainland, those worrying about family, and those who have just moved here because of the hurricane: we see you. We see the need for continuous action, to be angry, to listen to your needs and respond to them, and to fight alongside you.

To those wanting to act in allyship, members of GLSEN’s National Student Council have come up with a list of steps you can take right now, either as an individual or part of a GSA.

Act 

  • With your fellow students, write letters and make calls to your Congressperson to ask them to fund relief efforts for Puerto Rico and the repeal of the Jones Act.
  • Create a fundraiser, and donate your collections to one of the organizations below. A fundraiser could include crafting safety pins with beads in the colors of the Puerto Rican flag, holding coin drop offs at your school, creating school-supply care packages, or hosting a sliding-scale queer movie night. Here are some organizations and causes GSAs have donated to:
    • Trans & Queer Boricuas, which “provides direct cash assistance to trans and queer Boricuas whose lives, homes and/or property have been impacted by Hurricane Maria.”
    • Proyecto Matria, a local community organization focused on helping victims of gender violence and poverty. They have established an emergency fund to provide basic supplies and food for their participants and community.
    • Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico, which is accepting supplies, such as “batteries, flashlights, a generator for the Center, non-perishable food, other hard-to-come-by essentials for community members, and school supplies.”

Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico
Attn: Cecilia La Luz
P.O. Box 9501
San Juan, PR 00908

  • Organize a school assembly and/or a presentation for family members to act in solidarity with students, families, and educators in Puerto Rico and to call attention to your fundraiser.
  • Share Princess Nokia’s fundraising video, Pancho Guillermo Cordova’s exclusive tote and T-shirt, and Rodríguez Besosa’s sustainable food proposal. Amplify other Puerto Rican artists and activists who are using their power to raise awareness and support.
  • Check in with Puerto Rican members of your school/community to see if they or their families may need support directly.
  • Work with other affinity groups (Diversity Club, Hispanic Students Association, etc) to organize an event or to raise funds.

Learn

  • Talk about Teaching Tolerance’s How to Talk about Puerto Rico in your GSA.
  • Follow Puerto Rico’s LGBT Center, which is providing updates on how to best assist queer people in need. The group is active on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Organize with other students to learn about the history of Puerto Rico and to recognize the colonization of the land.
  • Talk about Puerto Rico in class (heritage, geography, culture) and the natural disaster.

We must support any and all communities that face hardships like this. There are so many ideas on how to help after disasters such as Hurricane Maria, but many are not followed through, often because folks doubt that they have the ability to make change. The first step is to listen to what is needed, and then move from there.

Our hearts are with you as you’re organizing in your schools and communities. You can always reach out to students@glsen.org for more support.

Marisa Matias, Sarah Bunn, and Mari Contreras are members of GLSEN’s National Student Council. Tate Benson is GLSEN’s Youth Programs Associate. 

January 08, 2018

A teacher teaching in front of her students

As you undoubtedly already know, Puerto Rico was struck by a powerful Category 5 hurricane on September 20, 2017. Students came to class talking about Hurricane Maria, worried about all the people without power and drinkable water. Since Hurricane Maria, about 139,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived to Florida, while the island struggles with a lack of basic necessities. Now, it’s as important as ever that we center the experiences of Puerto Rican Americans in our classrooms. 

For educators whose hearts are with Puerto Rico right now, and who are unsure of what next steps you can take, here are some ideas from GLSEN’s National Student Council:

Learn 

  • Read articles such as How to Help Puerto Rico Right Now and After Hurricane Maria, Mental Health Specialist see toll among U.S. Puerto Ricans to learn more about how you can help and the continuing effects of the disaster.
  • Follow Puerto Rico’s LGBT Center, which is providing updates on how to best assist queer people in need. The group is active on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Check in with Puerto Rican members of your school/community to see if they or their families may need support directly. Listen with empathy as they share what they are going through, find out what they need, and if you are able to, support them in getting their needs met. 

Teach

  • Talk about Puerto Rico with your students (heritage, geography, culture) and the natural disaster.
  • Share with your students Princess Nokia’s fundraising video, Pancho Guillermo Cordova’s exclusive tote and T-shirt, and Rodríguez Besosa’s sustainable food proposal. See if your students can find other Puerto Rican artists and activists who are using their power to raise awareness and support.
  • Incorporate into your curriculum this lesson by Teaching Tolerance: How to Talk about Puerto Rico.
  • Teach your students about the history of Puerto Rico and to recognize the colonization of the land, which has influenced the lack of U.S. governmental response to the disaster. Try these lessons from Share My Lesson: American’s Involvement in Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico: What is the role of the federal government after a disaster? 
  • Connect to your school’s affinity groups (Diversity Club, Hispanic Students Association, GSA, etc.) to organize an event that unifies your school’s efforts and gives more support for this cause.

Act

  • Have your students write a letter to and call your Congress person to ask them to donate to relief efforts for Puerto Rico.
  • Organize a school assembly and/or a presentation for family members to show solidarity with students, families, and educators in Puerto Rico and to call attention to your fundraiser.

Donate

  • Create a fundraiser or donate directly to one of the organizations below. A fundraiser could include crafting safety pins with beads in the colors of the Puerto Rican flag, holding coin drop offs at your school, creating school-supply care packages, or hosting a sliding-scale queer movie night. Here are some organizations and causes to donate to:
    • The Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), which is accepting donations “in order to provide people in need the poor communities, including our colleagues and the families of our students that have lost everything.”
    • Trans & Queer Boricuas, which “provides direct cash assistance to trans and queer Boricuas whose lives, homes and/or property have been impacted by Hurricane Maria.”
    • Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico, which is accepting supplies, such as “batteries, flashlights, a generator for the Center, non-perishable food, other hard-to-come-by essentials for community members, and school supplies.”

Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico
Attn: Cecilia La Luz
P.O. Box 9501
San Juan, PR 00908

For those of you who are Puerto Rican and have family on the island or in neighboring islands impacted by this natural disaster, know that you are doing all that you can in getting by each day, and lean on your allies and advocates right now. Educators have always mastered putting their students first, and responding to their needs, especially in times of crisis. Thank you for all that you continue to do!

Marisa Matias, Sarah Bunn, and Mari Contreras are members of GLSEN’s National Student Council. Becca Mui is GLSEN’s Education Manager.

November 30, 2017

During Native Heritage Month, GLSEN recognizes and celebrates the cultures, histories, contributions, issues, and heritage of Native/Indigenous peoples.

‘Indigenous’ and ‘Native’ are identity markers used interchangeably across Turtle Island and are most often capitalized as nouns. ‘Native American’ is more and more rejected in protest against the settler states of the U.S. and Canada who presume their project of settlement and colonization of this land is finished. This is still Turtle Island.

From We’wha to Candi Brings Plenty, queer and Two-Spirit Indigenous folks have been at the forefront of LGBTQ organizing and resistance movements for centuries. They have currently and throughout history been fighting against cultural genocide by the U.S. government, the breaking of treaties, and white supremacy. It is imperative that we continue to acknowledge this work, while also remaining vigilant of the intersecting levels of marginalization and oppression that queer and Two-Spirit Indigenous peoples experience. Keeping in mind the activists who continue to put their bodies and well-being on the line to fight for the care of their sacred land—most recently at Standing Rock—is a critical element of inclusive education and LGBTQ work.

Below is a compilation of these icons, composed by GLSEN’s National Student Council to share their impact, and as an encouragement for folks to look into their work. Each of these icons belong in classroom curriculum. Including them is a way for students to feel reflected, honored, and valued within both their school community and society at large. In addition to making students feel valued it is a way of keeping Native culture alive. For more ways to support LGBTQ Native students at school, see these GLSEN resources

 And, most importantly, feel free to refer to this decolonial map in order to remain accountable to whose land you are on across Turtle Island.

Did we miss your icon? Post your favorite Native LGBTQ icon on Instagram with a bio using #NativeHeritageMonth. Then, see more Native icons and a timeline that you can use in your classroom all year long!

November 27, 2017

Four pronoun buttonsTrans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming students, this is a moment for you. This is a moment to remind you that your pronouns are valid. This is also a moment to acknowledge the anxiety and stress that you might experience if you’re sharing pronouns (for the first or fiftieth time) or being misgendered. You are not alone.  

Your gender self-determination is work. You existing as your beautiful self is work. As we work towards manifesting a world where folks can self-identify their gender freely and without anxiety, these affirmations are here to remind you that you have a right to feel at home with yourself.

1. Marcus (They/Them/Theirs, He/Him/His)

 Cis people can be called whatever they want with little to no complaint – you  deserve the same. It’s actually quite easy to use correct pronouns, and if people see it as a burden then they are not being respectful or compassionate enough. Your pronouns are a necessity, not a choice you are "burdening" others with. 

 2. Ezra (He/Him/His, Ey/Em/Eirs)

To be honest, it's still something I struggle with on the daily, but when you find the right person who puts the effort into using your correct pronouns and begins correcting other people, in my experience, people start to catch on. There's also this cool game that I like to have people play, which can help.

3. Nate (He/Him/His)

Never feel guilty correcting people. Email your teachers as much as you need, and ask your friends and allies to correct people for you, especially if it's an authority figure. There’s strength in numbers, and you don’t have to do it all by yourself.

4. Ose (They/Them/Theirs)

You know yourself better than anyone else. No one is entitled to (nor do they need) any more explanation than you’re willing to provide. Do and say however much or little you’re comfortable with.

5. James (He/Him/His)

It's reasonable to feel a lot of stress and anxiety about pronouns, and you're not alone in that. Sometimes the answer to a situation is not as straightforward as you may think. Never correct a person if you don't feel comfortable, and make sure you have some allies around you that can help. Sometimes correcting people takes too much energy and causes too much stress, and it's valid to recognize that and step back. Do what makes sense to you! There's no one size fits all.

6. Mari (Ze/Zir/Zirs)

There’s always the fear of unacceptance and confusion, but your pronouns are a right that can never be taken away. It is very anxiety-inducing to say, “Actually, my pronouns are… and it is appreciated that you use them.” But you have every right to say it.

As someone who identifies as agender, I want to validate that there are more pronouns besides she/her/hers, he/him/his, and even they/them/theirs. You are who you are, and no one can take who you are away from you. I’ve learned over time that we are valid no matter what, even if we find our pronouns having to be corrected. 

7. Niles (They/Them/Theirs)

You are not required to correct people whenever they mess up your pronouns; it isn’t your job to teach people how to treat you with respect. But you absolutely have the right to correct people in any way that feels comfortable to you; your comfort and identity are more important than making your correction overly kind or palatable to others. If you can’t correct someone when they use your pronouns incorrectly, that’s okay. If you correct people every time they mess up, gently or not, that’s okay, too. You are valid regardless. No one can take that away, no matter how hard they try.

And to trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming educators, we see you too. Here are words from Milo (They/Them/Theirs):

“As a teacher who uses they/them/their pronouns at work, I experience pronoun anxiety every day. However, I believe that school communities can work together to create more affirming environments for trans and gender nonconforming teachers and students. To the teachers and administrators out there, we all know that building positive relationships with students is essential for a productive and engaged classroom. Proactively creating a school environment where students (and teachers) feel comfortable sharing their pronouns is a fundamental part of building relationships with trans and gender nonconforming students. You don’t have to understand their identities to respect their pronouns. If it’s difficult or confusing for you, do your research and practice! That’s what being a lead learner is all about.”

As you continue your journey, sharing GLSEN’s pronoun resource might be helpful – plus GLSEN’s wealth of resources for supporting trans students.

November 22, 2017

A student and a teacher in a classroom

Acceptance of trans folks in schools has become a hot-button issue. With all of the misinformation floating around, many schools wonder how they can best serve their transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) students. I am a transmasculine student, so these issues hit very close to home.

I think educators are well positioned to be my advocates in schools and make real change in addressing these issues. Enter my wonderful school counselor, Ashleigh. They identify as queer and use gender-neutral pronouns, though they don’t worry about the specific label of their identity. When I spoke to them about trans inclusion in our school, they were a bit nervous – my school is still not very open to the free discussion of queer topics – but my counselor tries to be as open as possible with their queer students. Here’s what they had to say:

On the importance of schools supporting trans faculty:

When we think of schools, we often think only of the students. But schools are made of both faculty and students. We have to ensure that schools are a safe place for their faculty as well; teachers should be able to change pronouns freely and discuss how they identify in class. It would empower teachers to be able to say, “This isn’t right,” and redirect disrespectful students who are using transphobic language. But if an administration is stifling queer and trans voices, it sends a powerful message to the faculty that these identities are not accepted, which then leads to students not accepting trans identities.

On ways educators can be supportive of trans students, even with a difficult school administration:

Teachers can make their classrooms into safe havens. There will always be pockets of positivity and negativity, but I believe positivity will always trickle down. Teachers should make an effort to use gender-neutral language and work to dismantle gender roles. Will teachers always be able to nip everything in the bud? No, it gets exhausting for everyone. But if a teacher makes it clear that derogatory speech or actions are not acceptable, they can help make their classroom a safe place for transgender students.

I still remember the first teacher who ever called someone out of the classroom after he harassed me for being queer. She was my history teacher, and from that day on I stayed in her classroom as much as I could. I ended up loving history, all because I felt safe in her classroom. All because she was the only person who ever fought for me.

On how youth can drive change:

You have to demand rights, and scream for it. Things change so quickly in the LGBTQ community, and youth are who are driving all of the changes.

When I was a teenager, I remember coming home from a trip to see the President arguing against the legalization of marriage equality. I never got an apology for the hurt I had to suffer from this experience as a young person. But to see when marriage equality was legalized and the White House was lit up in rainbows… I can’t explain what that meant to me.

My counselor has been instrumental to making our school trans-inclusive, but we still have a long way to go. Discriminatory acts can still slip through the cracks. I hear derogatory remarks against transgender people almost daily with little to no repercussions.

It is important that schools act as a unit when it comes to ensuring safety for their transgender and GNC students; it cannot simply be talk. Students, teachers, and school administrators must put their words into action. Change is happening slowly, but the future is bright. Students and educators looking for ways to make their school trans-inclusive can look to GLSEN’s wealth of resources.

As my counselor said, “It may seem bad now, but what is going to be your White House in rainbows?” Although fighting for my rights may be tiring, I can’t wait to see what my rainbow will be.

Marcus Breed is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

November 20, 2017

Headshot of Kian Tortorello-Allen

I’m a 16-year-old brown, trans guy. As a visibly trans brown person, I face different and often more intense forms of both racial and gender discrimination. Through this discrimination I often feel like my identity is being erased. I often don’t see myself represented in LGBTQ spaces, which tend to be dominated by white voices and experiences; sometimes those spaces are racially ignorant or even racist. Black and brown trans folks have to be resilient to even exist. 

I don’t always feel like I have the support to truly be proud of my transness and my brownness. Today is Trans Day of Resilience, and it’s about continuing the fight towards justice for trans folks. With that in mind, here are 4 things you (especially cis-white folks) can do to better support trans students of color.  

1. Listen

Make sure to listen to the stories, experiences, and voices of brown and Black trans students. We have a unique perspective and face different, intersecting forms of discrimination and oppression in our lives. 

2. Learn

Once you’ve listened to brown and Black trans voices, make sure to educate yourself. Read books, look at resources, and fill yourself with knowledge! By educating yourself, you can help be a better ally to trans people of color. GLSEN’s resources on supporting trans students and research on the school experiences of Black and Latinx trans students can be helpful tools in your self-education.    

3. Acknowledge your privilege

Privilege often brings access and authority that aren’t given to another group. Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge your privilege, recognizing that your race, sexuality, gender, class and so on all affect your experiences. You can use your access and authority to improve the experiences of Black and brown trans folks.

4. Highlight 

You can be an ally to trans people of color by highlighting their voices; it’s critically important to highlight and raise up their voices when you can. If you have a platform, use it to share stories that aren’t always heard. Remember to make space for those who traditionally wouldn’t have it.   

In recognition of Trans Day of Resilience, a number of trans, gender nonconforming, and non-binary artists of color, in a project put on by Forward Together, created artwork that truly shows the strength, beauty, and power within the trans brown and black communities. One of these artists, Art Twink, created the piece below, which really resonates with me. Black and brown trans people have been twice gifted with diversity, and our uniqueness makes us glow. 

Illustration of trans folks of color; "We are the blessed ones"
(Art by Art Twink. More pieces at TDOR.co) 

As Trans Awareness Week comes to a close, I’m inspired by the resilience of my community of trans folks of color, and I’m hopeful that you’ll join us in fighting for justice.

Kian Tortorello-Allen is member of GLSENs National Student Council.

November 20, 2017

GLSEN’s data has long demonstrated the hostile school environments that many transgender students face: including high rates of harassment and assault, denial of access to facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, and being misgendered — including educators refusing to use students’ appropriate name and pronouns. The combination of peer victimization, discriminatory educator practices and policies, and lack of access to safe and appropriate educational spaces contributes to the elevated rates of negative outcomes experienced by transgender students, as compared to their cisgender peers. Transgender youth are more likely to miss school, drop out of school, face disciplinary sanctions, and, as a result, become involved in the juvenile justice system.

Two new reports from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and their collaborating partners provide deeper insight into the experiences of transgender people in the educational system, specifically the experiences of Black and Latinx trans people in K-12 schools.

Using data from NCTE’s U.S. Transgender Survey, these reports provide retrospective data on what these transgender adults (ages 18 to 87) experienced in their K-12 school environments, and the statistics are jarring. Of those who were out as transgender at some point in their K-12 schooling, nearly three-quarters (74%) of both Black and Latinx transgender people reported experiencing some sort of mistreatment at school, including harassment so severe it caused them to leave that school. The bar chart below details percentages of Black and Latinx transgender people who were out as transgender or perceived by others as transgender and reported various negative school experiences during their time in K-12 schools.

Chart

These reports are from current adults, so it’s important to remember that while some of them were students more recently, many of them attended schools multiple years or even decades ago. Yet, GLSEN’s data on school climate for current trans middle/high school students demonstrates that victimization and discrimination are still very much a reality in our schools today, and that trans youth, and LGBTQ Black, Latinx, and multiracial youth are at greater risk for being pushed out of school.

Thankfully, we know what is needed to improve the outcomes for these youth. Resources including student clubs such as GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender-Sexuality Alliances), anti-bullying policies that specifically protect gender identity and gender expression, and LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum have been demonstrated to improve the school experiences of trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. In order to maximize the benefits for Black and Latinx transgender youth, these resources must be explicitly trans-inclusive and directly speak to LGBTQ youth of color.

In regards to specific policies, the GLSEN/NCTE model policy on supporting transgender and gender nonconforming students provides schools with best practices they can implement to improve access to education for transgender students and create a learning environment in which they can thrive.

Schools should also enact specific efforts to end unfair discipline policies and curb disparities in juvenile justice involvement for transgender students, particularly Black and Latinx transgender students. This should involve ceasing the use of zero-tolerance disciplinary policies and promoting restorative justice approaches designed to keep students in school.

Additionally, providing anti-bias training for school staff — including security personnel and school police — will help to help to create safer school environments for transgender students and reduce bias in the application of disciplinary and other school policies.

The results of the reports are jarring, but they provide important information about the needs of Black and Latinx transgender students that can be used to improve school policies and provide these students with an opportunity to learn without fear of violence or discrimination. For ways to continue working towards schools that are inclusive of these youth, see GLSEN’s resources for supporting trans students.

Sandy James, JD, MA, is the Research Director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Emily Greytak, PhD, is the Director of Research at GLSEN. 

November 19, 2017

James van Kuilenburg headshot

I have admired history for as long as I can remember. Ever since I could read, I’ve enjoyed finding the stories of people just like me, albeit five hundred years ago. I’ve always liked how history is less like a lens, and more like a window. You can always look through it and discover something new, about others and yourself. History is powerful in that way; it shows examples of the triumphs and failures of humanity. The past empowers the present, proving we can be successful if we try hard enough.

In seventh grade, I took my first intensive history class. Instead of general world history, I learned about this history of West Virginia. While my classmates found learning about their home state boring, I thought it was interesting to learn about the Civil War conflicts that happened in our backyard.

At the same time, as I was learning the name of every Confederate, I was learning more about myself. That year, I finally began to identify what had been bothering me. See, for as long as I had loved history, I had also been distinctly aware that something was off about the way I had been raised. The dresses my mother had me wear, and the long hair that dragged me down, bothered me deeply, and in the seventh grade, I finally realized why: I was really a boy!

During that year, I found the word “transgender” online, and I tried it out a few times to see if it fit. I would write the name I preferred, James, on my class papers, stare at it, and then erase it. I would wear my dad’s hand-me-downs, rather than the tight feminine clothes my parents had bought, and it felt right. When I was finally ready to share my identity with parents, I was lucky to grow up in a very accepting family.

At school, however, I wasn’t as lucky. Spurred on by the positive reception from my parents, I came out to my friends. Instead of accepting me, they spread my identity around the school like it was a dirty secret. My teachers didn’t ask how they could support me; they started gossiping about me, and I became quickly isolated. My school’s administration didn’t offer support, but questioned the validity of my identity. I began to doubt the decision to come out. I missed weeks of school, and my grades plummeted.

While I would have felt relieved when studying history, now I felt stressed. I had never heard of anyone being transgender in the past, and I began to feel like I was part of something new, a burden I would have to carry through my life.

During the final project of my history class, I took a leap of faith. I asked my teacher if he had ever heard of a transgender person from West Virginia history. His response was no, that he had never heard of something like that, and it didn’t exist. I don’t fault him for not knowing about trans figures from history (even though he was a history teacher), but I don’t think that anyone’s identity should be told it doesn’t exist, and certainly not mine. His answer scared me, but I was desperate to find some kind of validation. I decided I would do my final project on transgender Civil War soldiers from West Virginia.  

Who I found ended up becoming a role model for me. His name was Albert D.J. Cashier, who was a trans man who enlisted in the American Civil War (if you haven’t heard about him, you should definitely look him up). His story propelled me to a place of self-confidence I didn’t know I had. He was just like me, but two hundred years ago, and he was an important part of West Virginia history. The research I did on him, and the other soldiers like him, not only made me feel valid in my identity, but garnered me first place in the Social Studies Fair in my school.

I proved my teacher wrong about transgender people in history, proved my peers wrong about the validity of trans identity, but most importantly, proved my self-doubt wrong. I often think about what would have happened if I had learned about trans people from my teacher, rather than from my own insecurity. I would have probably come out sooner and been more sure in my identity. I also probably wouldn’t have faced so much rejection from my peers, if trans identity had been normalized in the classroom.

Too often our history is edited to conform to our society’s ideals today. The colonization of Turtle Island, also known as North America, violently ripped out the stories of queer and Two-Spirit Indigenous people. LGBTQ people have existed on this continent, and all across the world, since the beginning of time, but in our history books, that is seldom reflected.

And if LGBTQ history is taught, it is often not inclusive of transgender people.  We, as students and educators, must make a concerted effort to highlight the stories of transgender people, which have often been erased from our history textbooks, especially the stories of folks with multiple marginalized identities, like trans folks of color.

The history of trans people is very important to me as a history nerd, but it’s important to every young person. History is the proof of existence, and the affirmation of identity. The benefits of teaching trans-inclusive history reach further than trans students themselves, and can alter the school climate for the better. To include trans history, affirm your students, and improve school climates, you must use trans-inclusive education materials, like those offered by GLSEN.

James van Kuilenburg is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

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