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January 08, 2018
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Kiley May is a Hotinonshón:ni Mohawk and Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory who currently lives in Tkaronto or “Toronto”. May identifies as Two-Spirit, trans, queer, and genderqueer. May is an actor, model, photographer, educator, writer, and leader in the Two-Spirit community. She was most recently honored this year as the 2017 Youth Ambassador for Pride Toronto. You can find some of May's work on instagram @artstarkiley. Photo Credit: CBC News. More #LGBTQ Native icons and a timeline at glsen.org/native
Ty Defoe (Giizhig) is from the Oneida and Ojibwe Tribes of Wisconsin and serves the East Coast Two-Spirit Society as the lead of the Youth Council. He is a Two-Spirit/Trans activist, cultural pioneer, writer, musician, who earned a Grammy Award for his work. He is known for his cultural education, and Hoop and Eagle Dancing. You can find his work @tydefoe. Photo Credit: Fader. More #LGBTQ Native icons and a timeline at glsen.org/native
Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio is a queer Kanaka Maoli activist, poet, musician, educator, and a PhD candidate in English at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Jamaica is a widely published poet and professional performer. In her free time, Jamaica facilitates poetry workshops for local and Kanaka Maoli youth in Hawaiʻi and is a board member of the award winning organization, Pacific Tongues. Visit glsen.oeg/native for more icons and a timeline! Photo Credit: UHM Mentor List.
Ignacio G (Hutiá Xeiti) Rivera is a #queer, #trans, Yamoká-hu/Two-Spirit, Black-Boricua Taíno activist, artist, and writer. Ignacio fights for economic justice, anti-racist and anti-violence work, as well as mujerista, #LGBTQ and sex positive movements. Their work is influenced by their lived experience of homelessness, poverty and sexual trauma. Ignacio founded and directs The HEAL Project and Pure Love. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: National Center for Transgender Equality
Evan Tlesla Adams is a Coast Salish of the Tla’amin (Sliammon) First Nation in Canada, who has made history in both film and healthcare. As a First Nations gay actor, Adams has won awards for his roles in Smoke Signals and Fancydancing. More importantly, Adams has been integral to transforming healthcare for indigenous people in Canada. You can find him on Twitter @doctoreonline. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: FNHA
Chrystos is a Two-Spirit Menominee poet and activist. She is the author of several award winning collections of poetry, including Not Vanishing, Dream On, and Fire Power. She has also been featured in the anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. She works for Indigenous Rights, the prison injustice system and violence against women and lesbians through poetry, writing, workshops, and more. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: Bainbridge Public Library
Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu is a native Hawaiian māhū transwoman. She is a founder of the Kulia Na Mamo transgender health project, cultural director of a Hawaiian public charter school, candidate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and one of the first #trans candidates for statewide political office in the United States. She also served as the Chair of the O'ahu Island Burial Council, which oversees the management of Native Hawaiian burial sites and ancestral remains. Hina was featured in the documentary film Kumu Hina. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: Tedx Maui
Osh-Tisch, also known as “Finds Them and Kills Them” was a badé from the Crow Nation of the 19th century. She was a war hero and leader in their community. In a battle with the Lakota, Osh-Tisch saved a fellow tribesperson in the Battle of the Rosebud. When white agents attacked her community, she was jailed, her hair was forcibly cut, and she was forced to wear masculine clothing. She is one of the last known badés of the Crow Nation. Learn about more Native icons for #NativeHistoryMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: Female Soldier
In 2012, Susan Allen became the first #lesbian and Two-Spirit Native American elected to the Minnesota state legislature. She has openly called out and rebuked assimilation. As Native American, Two-Spirit, and #LGBTQ, Allen has resisted the concept of needing to be accepted by the mainstream. Allen was an attorney before becoming a state legislator, representing tribes in negotiations with state and federal governments. Learn about more Native icons for #NativeHeritageMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: Indian Country Media Network
La Malinche was a Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast who is understood in various and often conflicting aspects through her role during colonization, behavior, and race binaries. Malinche queered gender binaries by demonstrating qualities generally tied to masculinity. Malinche’s linguistic resistance revealed her inner strength. She also bent traditional gender role binaries and the patriarchal hierarchy. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHistoryMonth at glsen.org/native
Raykeea Angel Wilson aka Angel Haze was born in Detroit and raised by their Cherokee mother. They identify as pansexual, agender, and multiracial (Cherokee and Black). Angel Haze is a talented rapper who uses their voice to speak out on issues involving the queer community and culture appropriation. In addition to their musical talent, they are also a self taught speaker of Tsalagi (language of the Cherokee people). Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHistoryMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: Consequence of Sound
Qwo-Li Driskill is a Cherokee author and professor. Qwo-Li’s poetry engages themes of healing and inheritance through personal experience with #queer, Two-Spirit, and mixed-race identities. Driskill has been featured co-edited a zine called Scars Tell Stories: A Queer and Trans Dis(ability Zine. Qwu-Li’s book Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Stories was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in 2017. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHistoryMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: Oregon State University
Ephthalia Michael-Schwarzzinger is a #bisexual Native American activist who is from the Navajo tribe. She has fundraised for Navajo reservations along with protesting at Standing Rock. She is working on a documentary about Standing Rock called Understanding "Mni Wiconi" and hopes to release the documentary to the world one day. She is currently going to Dartmouth College and is majoring in neuroscience. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHistoryMonth at glsen.org/native
Webber is the multiracial Aleut, black and Choctaw founder and artistic director of Voices Rising. She has published a poetry collection called “Blues Divine.” She has also appeared in documentaries including Venus Boyz and Living Two Spirit. She is an interdisciplinary artist, a performance poet who has appeared in international spoken word tours, and a teacher. Learn more info about Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: 4 Culture
Jewelle Gomez is a Black and Wampanoag novelist and the author of The Gilda Stories and seven other books. She has worked in public television, theatre and philanthropy. She was on the founding board of GLAAD and early boards of the Astrea Lesbian Foundation and the Open Meadows Foundation. Gomez and her partner Diane Sabin were those among suing California for the right to marry, and she continues writing about gay rights and working as Director of Grants and Community Initiatives for the Horizons Foundation. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: SF Weekly
The National Indigenous Young Women's Council (NIYWC) is a self-governed council of Indigenous young women under 30 years of age. It includes those who identify as #trans, Two-Spirit, and/or gender non-conforming. The Council works to provide leadership opportunities, community actions and mobilization, and skills-training and capacity building. With the support of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) the Council also develops spaces for celebration, reclamation and cultural resurgence with a vision for future generations. Learn about more Native icons this #NativeHeritageMonth at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: NIYWC Facebook
Candi Brings Plenty is a two-spirit Oglala Lakota Sioux and founder of the “Two-Spirit” camp at Standing Rock; one of three resistance camps of water protectors. Candi is now empowering other two-spirit folks providing a homecoming of sorts through a lens of traditional Native American ideals. She has formed both a statewide non-profit, Oregon Two-Spirit Society, as well as the first Pacific Northwest Native American PFLAG chapter. Learn about more icons at glsen.org/native Photo Credit: GLAPN Northwest LGBTQ History
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
Trans, 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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 a member of GLSEN’s 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.
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
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.
November 17, 2017
I identify as non-binary, which means that I don’t identify as exclusively male or female. I am also disabled. These identities are inseparable to me. However, many people assume that these identities have no relationship and create resources or access that only serve a fraction of who I am.
My gender expression is femme, and I enjoy dressing myself accordingly. But my presentation hinges upon my disability. I have chronic pain conditions that limit my ability to walk, which means stairs are generally inaccessible to me. Using the stairs results in immense pain and sometimes leads me to pass out. I also walk with canes and crutches to manage my conditions. Certain clothing and fabrics, usually boxy clothing with rough, tight fabrics are off limits to me due to how much they amplify my chronic pain. Looser, flowier styles work better for me because I can move easier with or without my mobility aids.
When I share that I am a trans person who was assigned female at birth, the resources automatically shown to me assume that I prefer things like button downs and binders. While these resources are necessary for many, they ignore the fact that my needs as a trans person do not include things like binders, which aren’t for me in part due to my disability.
Sometimes my needs are forced into conflict, and I have to choose between my safety and comfort as a trans person, and my physical health as a disabled person.
For example, there were no gender-neutral bathrooms at my school, but there were a set of gendered bathrooms that were rarely used. Although gender-neutral bathrooms would make me much more comfortable as a non-binary student, using the empty, gendered bathroom was my best option when it came to avoiding harassment. (If it were easy as that, this story might end here, but it wasn’t.) These bathrooms were located on the opposite side of campus from most of my classes and required stairs to access, forcing me to choose between my need of not being harassed and my need to avoid stairs.
The result: I often chose to try and avoid bathrooms at all.
I’m asking us to push beyond the narrative that bodies are the same and that there’s one way to address one’s bodily needs. We must hold space for non-conformity, bodies with many identities, and people with many needs. My needs as a white, non-binary, disabled person are different from the needs of a white able-bodied trans person or a non-binary disabled person of color. There are nuances within my needs that encompass all of my identities. We must meet the needs in the nuances that address the differences that we hold.
Accommodations for trans people OR disabled people OR people of color isn’t enough. This type of thinking separates identities that are inextricably linked. Disability justice is LGBTQ justice is racial justice is healthcare justice, and so on. In working towards social justice, we must recognize these as intertwined, and understand that addressing these individually, instead of collectively, further marginalizes those with multifaceted identities rather than work towards collective liberation. I don’t want to have to choose between using the stairs and risking passing out from the pain or taking the elevator and having to interact with the kid who always harasses me for my gender and disability.
I encourage you to think critically about how multiple identities intersect, especially in a school context. Does your school have gender-neutral bathrooms? If so, are they close and accessible, or far and isolated? Does the clothing drive your GSA is running for trans youth include a push for sensory-friendly or more neutral clothing? Does the history timeline you are creating for your GSA or history class include trans people of color, or is it white-centric or tokenizing? These are just a few examples of holding space for intersections in your work.
Niles Clipson is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
November 15, 2017
Let’s be real here: Biology, anatomy, and sex-ed classes are distressing for trans students. I distinctly remember sitting in freshman biology, a class required for graduation, as a newly out trans guy. I had to deal with gender dysphoria when my teacher constantly used “boys have...” and “girls have…” when talking about body parts. I could not stop myself from fixating on the ways my body wasn’t traditionally male. This was a huge emotional burden, and it was compounded by classmates who sometimes made transphobic remarks. Somehow, I had to try and learn the content.
In part because of my experience in freshman biology, I’m among the 75% of transgender students who have felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression. It’s up to educators to create environments where trans students feel safe and can learn, which includes making sure their classroom culture and curriculum are trans-inclusive.
Not surprisingly, GLSEN research shows that LGBTQ high school seniors whose STEM curriculum included positive LGBTQ content are twice as likely to choose a college major in those fields. Our experiences in classes truly make a difference in how we live our futures.
My experience as a trans student didn’t only make me feel unsafe, it specifically made me decide against taking AP Biology the next year and created a barrier to furthering my education in the STEM field. If trans students like me shy away from biology class, we’ll lack representation in the medical field, because the biology students of today are the healthcare professionals of tomorrow.
Already, doctors are severely unprepared to care for transgender patients. According to a national survey of transgender discrimination: 19% of transgender people report being refused care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status, 28% were subjected to verbal harassment in a doctor’s office, emergency room, or other medical setting, and 50% reported having to teach their medical providers about transgender care.
Creating the environment for future trans medical professionals starts in schools. For the sake of trans students’ emotional wellbeing, their career aspirations, and the future of healthcare, health educators must work to make their classroom and curriculum trans-inclusive. This can begin with modifying language used in class.
Gender-neutral language is transformational for me and other trans students. After feeling so frustrated with my freshman biology class, I took it upon myself to work with my anatomy teacher to make her sexual reproduction unit gender-neutral during my junior year. Implementing gender-neutral language replaced my stressful experiences from freshman year with a reinvigorated passion for biology. Using the tips from this guide, educators can incorporate gender-neutral language in any biology, anatomy, or sex-ed course. Educators can go a step further and view GLSEN’s other resources for supporting trans students.
By taking the initiative and making science classes more inclusive of trans students, educators lay the foundation for a better future for all.
Nate Fulmer is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
November 13, 2017
I was waiting in line at the gate in the Oakland airport to board a flight to Los Angeles, and out of nowhere I felt someone tapping my hip. It was a five- or six-year-old girl, accompanied by her father and brother, and she was anxious to fly home.
After she played a version of hide and seek with me, she whispered something into her brother's ear. She turned, looked at me, and asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I chuckled a bit, and her father pulled her aside. I told him, “It’s okay; she’s fine.” Then, I leaned over to the little girl and whispered back, “I’m a boy.” She giggled, gave me a high five, and went on to board the plane.
To tell that girl I was a boy required a long, complicated journey. Towards the end of my sophomore year, when I first came out as transgender, I identified as gender-neutral or androgynous. Basically, I wasn't a boy or a girl; I was simply genderless. Coming out felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. At first, everything was fine: My friends accepted me with open arms, and I began to socially transition.
My understanding of my identity continued to evolve after I first came out. Later, I thought, “I know for sure I’m a boy.” And then even later, “Maybe I don’t identify with any gender.” Finally, after months of wrestling with how to articulate who I truly was, I discovered that I identify as a trans, gender non-conforming boy. To me, this means that I am a boy, but my gender expression doesn’t align to traditional gender norms for boys.
But it is important for me to recognize how my gender identity is intertwined with other identities that are important to me, like my racial identity. I identify as Latinx and Black. As I’ve learned more about my identity, and after reading texts like Strong Families’ Femifesto, I’ve grown in my belief that the gender binary – the idea of “male” and “female” as the only two genders – is a system created by and for white people, not brown bois like me.
Since European colonization, white people have actively erased examples of Indigenous and other non-white cultures having various sexual orientations and non-binary gender identities and expressions. For example, Two-Spirit Indigenous folks, whose identity falls outside the gender binary, are hardly anywhere to be found in my school history textbooks or mainstream media, despite their important contributions to Indigenous culture.
White people have used the gender binary to force white-focused gender norms on people of color – one of the many ways that white people have controlled people of color. This means that no matter how hard I try to fit into the label of “boy” or “girl,” I will never be afforded the same status as a white person of that gender.
Although I identify as a trans, gender non-conforming boy, my identity is rooted in a racist and binary system that is not made for me. To truly feel liberated, I cannot be confined by the gender binary, which means I’m constantly pushing back against white gender norms. To support me in school, educators and my fellow students must fight all ways white supremacy shows up in our lives. Because only through dismantling white supremacy can we destroy systems like the gender binary.
Ezra Morales is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.