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March 30, 2017

Photo of Christian J. Zsilavetz at Pride celebration
Photo Courtesy of Christian J. Zsilavetz

I am a 47-year-old trans educator. At age 36, when I lived in Seattle, I started transitioning. For 18 months, I tried being stealth, but it didn’t work for me. I was always scared someone would peg me as trans and want to create a riot out of my identity. At age 42, I moved across the country to Atlanta and spent a year home with my children before returning to teaching. Yet another year closeted, I realized that being closeted just did not help me reach the students I felt I needed to reach.

Today, I sit across from a 14-year-old transgender student from Forsyth County, GA, a place not far from Atlanta and known for its racism, homophobia, and transphobia. We both are dealing with family issues, depression, and anxiety, and we both are surrounded by others who support and love us just as we are.

Greetings to all gender-fabulous youth out there! I am an out, queer-identified transman, and my name is Christian James Zsilavetz (he, him, his). I invite you to Google me. Seriously. That is quite a shift from 10 years ago when I thought I would just die, or at least get beat up and more, if anyone knew that I was transgender.

I am the Director and Co-founder of Pride School Atlanta, a K-12 school that is openly free of homophobia and transphobia. We have a small school our first year, but we support youth, educators, and families all around the United States and far beyond by virtue of being “googleable.”  We also provide workshops and the like for schools and businesses, which is something I am headed to do today.

I need you to know that we are everywhere, and that adults everywhere will keep fighting the battle for trans rights in schools. Your job is to continue to grow into the person you are meant to become. Our job is to continue to help make schools awesome for you, your friends, your families, your teachers, and your coaches. 

Know that you never need to be alone with your problems again unless you choose to. Know that you are not the only one dealing with depression and anxiety and the challenges of dating/not dating, home issues, homelessness, joblessness, disease. Know that you are not the only one who is happy, joyous, and free, and ready for the world, either.

It is okay to be happy because you are transgender. It is okay to be angry because you are transgender. It is okay to be sad because you are transgender. All these feelings will pass and come back around at different times.

Most of all, I ask of you to do whatever you need to do to care for yourself and your closest friends, working only to change the things you can and asking for help with the rest. Don’t accept horrible behavior from anyone. Document great things and document moments of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination. Email them to yourself, a parent (if it will help), and a staff member who can do something about it.

Find reasons to laugh a lot. Hang with your people whenever you are able, even if it is by Skype. You likely don’t have a lot of emotional or mental reserves some days, so taking care of yourself, your schoolwork, your room, and perhaps a part-time job is more than enough. If you or a friend are at risk of self-harm or being harmed by others, please call 911 and reach out to the Trevor Project, Translifeline, or the nearest LGBTQ organization. School may not change overnight, nor will your parents, nor will your family or friends, but you will continue to grow and become the person you are meant to become.

Christian J. Zsilavetz is the Director and Co-founder of Pride School Atlanta. He can be reached at

Additional Resources

March 29, 2017

Headshot of Bex Robinson of GLSEN's National Student Council

Dear 9th grade Rebekah,

Hey Bex! It’s your senior year – you made it! Honestly, you thought it was never going to happen, and now, you’re about to give your senior speech. Scary, am I right? But first, I’d like to catch you up on a few things.

It’s freshman year, and you just came out as bisexual to your friends and family. Wow, props to you for being honest. It wasn’t easy – that’s for sure – but your parents, brothers, and true friends love you no matter what.

I want to give you a little heads up: You’re going to feel like people discredit who you are, or even try to erase or deny your identities. People will ask you questions that make your skin crawl. There are going to be people who think that you’re greedy, indecisive, or untrustworthy. You’re going to feel as if you don’t belong in certain spaces, that you’re not gay enough because you don’t fit every stereotype in the book, or that there is an “alpa gay” somewhere waiting to judge you.

But Bex, listen, that’s just so not the case. You’re gonna do great things, and people will lean on you for support. Heck, you’re going to be in Teen Vogue! There’s nobody here to check your gay ID, and you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Don’t listen to people who say you’re not gay enough. You just have to be you, and you’re pretty cool.

Lately, you’ve been thinking about those books you read when you were a little girl, Happy to Be Nappy and Shades of Black. Those were some of your favorites, right? The way you would curl up in the corner and flip through pages soaking in their pictures and words. You just loved those illustrations of their curls because they looked so much like yours, and the rainbow of skin tones in Shades of Black represented your family. You read them over and over again because they were beautiful and they made you feel beautiful, too.

Thinking about those books made you wonder why people from the Black community asked, “What are you?” “Are you mixed?” “Why do you talk white?” You didn’t understand why they couldn’t see what you felt. You grew up hearing at home how Black was beautiful and how there was such a rich history to be proud of.

Your parents never let you forget your Black girl magic, and when your educators and peers tried to question it, your parents were quick to have your back. You were Black, and that was that. Feeling this sense of othering from the community that you felt so intrinsically a part of was disorienting and disheartening.

Realizing that you couldn’t feel at home in either the Black community or the gay community felt isolating. Being Black and gay enough constantly weighed on your mind, and you tried to fix it. Well, Bex, it’s hard to fix something that’s not broken. You weren’t doing anything wrong. Generalizations and stereotypes help make some complex things more understandable to people, but they can be damaging. Grouping people together because they’re all supposed to act one way, or talk one way, or like the same things, leaves little room for individuality.

This idea of fitting into a mold has pushed you to challenge people’s assumptions about you. As a senior, you love to push boundaries and keep people on their toes. You don’t have to prove your Blackness or bisexuality to anyone, because you are a Black, bisexual woman, and that’s enough. Period. 

Hey Bex, I also want to remind you to be gentle with yourself. Being smart isn’t only determined by how well you do math, or how well you can write a paper, or even how many verb conjugations you have memorized. As a freshman, you always thought you weren’t smart enough to compete with the other girls. But when you keep comparing yourself to others, it’s toxic. 

Is it really worth falling asleep in class the next day, just to stay up all night to get that assignment done? Trust me, having actually done that, I know it makes learning that much harder. I know you want to push yourself to succeed, but your health should be a priority, too. Just remember you need enough sleep.

People are going to tell you that it’s okay if you don’t get straight As, and I wish you had actually listened. Mom and Dad stressed that as long as you’re giving your best, that’s all that matters. It’s true. Think about the big picture, and give yourself time to breathe. Just because something doesn’t come easily or naturally does not make you any less of a learner. 

This idea of being good enough never stops, Bex. You have to keep fighting that voice inside. Tell it to shut up and prove it wrong. I’d like to say that in your senior year you’re over all of this, you ooze major confidence, and nothing shakes you anymore, but that could not be further from the truth. 

You even questioned whether or not you would be good enough, strong enough, or brave enough to write this. It caused you so much stress and many tears because you worried so much about how people would receive your words. In your mind, you have this fixed idea of success, of being accomplished, of being what people want. However, definitions change, and so do people, and so did you.

Black History Month ended in February, but what didn’t end is the need to make young, Black, queer women feel like they’re enough. There are so many ways that students and educators can address the intersections of being a queer, Black woman; GLSEN’s educator guide on supporting LGBTQ students of color and their “Sharing Communities” GSA activity are great places to start. Bex, I’d like to finish this letter by saying you’re going to meet people who share your passion for making others feel like they’re enough, too.

You’ve got this, bud, and I mean it, honestly. It won’t be easy – that’s for sure – but it’ll be okay, and you’ll make it through. After all, I’m here writing to you, aren’t I?

Enough is enough.

Much love,


Bex Robinson is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council. This piece was adapted from her senior speech.

March 10, 2017

Image of Protect Trans Youth Rally

Many people are outraged by the current administration’s actions to rescind the Title IX guidance, which protected transgender people. Across the country, GLSEN has organized and rallied to uplift trans youth voices and make the support they have in our country both visible and active. As you continue to organize, rally, and advocate for the rights of trans people, including trans youth, we urge you to include those who are most marginalized in this fight at the forefront.

In the first two months of 2017, we have lost 7 Black trans women due to violence: Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Chyna Gibson, Mesha Caldwell, Jojo Striker, Tiara Richmond, Jaquarius Holland, and Ciara McElveen.

In a recent interview, trans actress Laverne Cox referenced the removal of the Title IX guidance, saying, “The message that the Trump administration is sending is that trans people should not exists in public space.” It is important that educators combat the messaging that prompts trans students to believe that they should not exist, and encourages others to think their violence, harassment, or erasure of trans people is justified and normalized.  

We are urging educators to stay aware and vocal of these incidents as there is a direct impact on trans youth when we stay silent.

Here are 9 ways to stay vocal and support trans youth:

1.    Register now for GLSEN’s Day of Silence on Friday, April 21, 2017, to receive information to participate in the largest student-led action to combat anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment in schools.

2.    Address current events in your classroom. We know that most of our students are aware of the news and media, and this seeps into our classroom. Proactively addressing and creating time for current events, whether during morning meeting, homeroom, or school-wide assemblies, provides a framework for the discussions your students are already having in between lessons, and allows adult perspective to clarify and support this dialogue.

3.    Make sure your colleagues, students, and school administration know that Title IX still protects transgender students’ rights to a safe learning environment, free from bullying and harassment. Know your rights.     

4.    Use GLSEN’s trans-supportive model laws and policies to have inclusive policies that explicitly protect and show support for trans students and educators.

5.     Implement these lesson plans on bullying, bias, and diversity to support the conversations you’re having about current events and to help your students develop deeper understandings of empathy and respect.

6.    Show GLSEN’s pronoun resource to your trans students and/or GSAs and ask what changes they’d like implemented for them to feel valued, visible, and affirmed.

7.    Sign up for GLSEN UP to receive information about how you can directly take part in policy and organizing actions that protect transgender and GNC students in your community and across the country.

8.    Put up a picture or symbol of trans student support. Remind trans students and educators that they still have rights and they are loved.

9.    Support or form a GSA at your school to actively support and uplift the voices of the LGBTQ community. Find resources here.

And of course, breathe and remember that you are not alone! Adults across the country are supporting each other through the Educator Forum. Join today to add your voice to the dialogue, and to lean on and be inspired by other educators as you continue this work.

Becca Mui is the Education Manager at GLSEN.

March 10, 2017

Photo of a letter written to Appeals Court written by 6-year-old trans girl experiencing discrimination at school

My daughter is a typical six-year-old girl. She’s smart and creative. She loves to read, write, and draw. She likes to play outside and dig in the mud. She likes to run. She likes to make blanket forts with her little brother and build with legos for hours on end. She loves kittens and horses. Her favorite colors are purple, pink, rainbow, and anything with sparkles. She’s a silly, outgoing, caring, and well-adjusted young girl. 

In some ways, though, she’s not so typical. She is disrespected, mistreated, and targeted with a kind of hate that no child should even know exists in the world. Despite this mistreatment, she knows herself, she loves herself, and she refuses to let other people dictate who she can or should be. She’s the most courageous person I have ever known. She also has a simple request, for something she should not have to ask for: She would like to use the girls’ restroom at school.

Unlike every other child at her school, my daughter is prohibited from entering the student restrooms. Instead, she is required to use a separate, single-stall staff restroom. The school administration forcibly segregates her from her peers because she was assigned male at birth. My daughter’s sex assigned at birth is only one very small part of who she is, but to her principal, this is the only part of her that matters.

School administrators use her sex assigned at birth to justify a laundry list of abuses and indignities. They’ve declined to enforce their own anti-harassment policies. They’ve downplayed and dismissed her being assaulted by another student. They’ve violated her privacy by outing her throughout the school system without consent. They’ve refused to amend the sex marker in her student records, despite the fact that she is legally female, with the government-issued identification documents to prove it. And they’ve barred her from accessing public restroom facilities every day for the last seven months. 

My daughter knows that her school does not accept her for who she is, and in her innocence, she doesn’t understand why. For months, she was scared to use the restroom at school out of fear of being hurt by another student or punished by a teacher. She was convinced there were cameras in and near the restroom so that the principal could spy on her. I had to go to the school to personally check the restroom for cameras multiple times in order to put her mind at ease. No child should have anxiety about something as simple as using the restroom, yet the school administration is ensuring just that.

The school has no working understanding of what it means to be transgender, nor have they shown any interest in learning. I will continue trying to help them listen and work with me to ensure my daughter is safe and protected. And my daughter isn’t unique in this struggle; there are other transgender students in our school district, in our state, and in our country who are being subjected to similar mistreatment, and worse.

Recently, the Supreme Court sent the case of trans student Gavin Grimm to a lower court, putting trans students’ protections in limbo, and my daughter wrote this letter to share with the judges. I fear that the only way my daughter’s school and so many other schools across the country will ever respect the rights of transgender students is if the courts make the right decision and require schools to respect transgender youth. 

As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals hears Gavin’s case, I urge you to take action to #ProtectTransYouth like Gavin and my daughter. I urge you to demand that your state’s governor issue a statement in support of trans youth and direct your state’s Department of Education to issue and enforce policies that support trans students. Please stand with my daughter. Please stand with trans youth. Please #StandWithGavin.

The mother and daughter live in Tennessee.

If you witness or experience discrimination at school, #ClaimYourRights with the Office for Civil Rights.

Change your Facebook profile photo frame in support of trans youth.

March 09, 2017

Headshots of Charlie and Katie, members of GLSEN's National Student CouncilCharlie Peña and Katie Regittko (Photos by Wunmi Onibudo)

First, applications for GLSEN’s National Student Council (NSC) are now open! If you don’t know already, the NSC is GLSEN’s national student leadership team for current U.S. high school students. If you’re interested in applying but aren’t sure what to expect, we, Katie and Charlie, want to share some of our experiences as members of the NSC.

Our journey officially started last July at the National Student Council Summit in Washington, D.C., where 18 of us met and prepared for the year to come. We got the chance to participate in various workshops about things like policy organizing and doing interviews with the media. We also got to feel like celebrities when we had a photo shoot and got interviewed on camera. One of our favorite parts was when we met Representative John Lewis and the co-writer of the book March, Andrew Aydin.

At the summit, we made valuable connections with our peers on the National Student Council. However, the most rewarding part happened after we got home.

Throughout the year, we worked on numerous projects and campaigns as student leaders for GLSEN. Some of them we even made ourselves! For example, the both of us, plus other NSC members Bex, Madison, and Emme, launched the #ILoveBiself campaign for Bisexual Awareness Week. For this campaign, we organized a Twitter chat and wrote a piece that was published in Teen Vogue. This experience was empowering and allowed our voices to be heard and understood.

Another highlight of the year was our Dear Mr. President video. Before the inauguration, our political climate left us stressed, drained, and weary of the future. As a body, we realized that other LGBTQ youth across the country were probably feeling the exact same way. We took our negative feelings and turned them into positive action by creating a video to serve as a beacon of hope and support for people like us. This video went on to be shared widely by major media outlets and across social media.

But of all these accomplishments during our time on the NSC, the best part by far has been working alongside our best friend (spoiler: we’re each other’s best friend!) Starting with rooming together at the summit, to currently Skyping four hours a night, we encourage each other’s growth as activists and as people. We truly don’t know where we would be if GLSEN didn’t bring us together.

Being a part of the National Student Council has changed both of our lives for the better. We’ve experienced things that we never thought imaginable and made connections to last a lifetime. But more importantly, we did it while changing the world.

Katie Regittko and Charlie Peña are members of GLSEN’s National Student Council. Apply now for the 2017-2018 NSC.

Photo of 3 LGBTQ youth with text overhead, "LGBTQ youth: lead, educate, organize"

February 27, 2017

Photo of Michelle Eisenberg, advisor of GLSEN's 2016 GSA of the Year
Michelle Eisenberg, advisor of GLSEN's 2016 GSA of the Year, at the GLSEN Respect Awards — New York 

LGBTQ students across the country, many for the first time, are questioning whether they have an ally in the White House. Last week, the Departments of Education and Justice withdrew Obama-era guidance issued to school districts for protecting trans students. As a GSA advisor, I fear for the students in our club, especially the trans students who are afraid after the reversal of the guidance.

Especially those with intersecting marginalized identities, like many of the students in the GSA I advise, many LGBTQ youth have grown up facing injustice their entire lives. With people like Secretary DeVos in power and President Trump himself who has yet to make clear any plan to support LGBTQ students, I fear that this injustice won’t stop. 

Right now, we need to celebrate the hard work of GSAs and elevate the voices of LGBTQ young people and their allies.

Animated GIF of Michelle Eisenberg speaking at the GLSEN Respect Awards -- New York

Last year, GLSEN recognized the GSA I advise as the GSA of the Year, and they’re now searching for this year’s honoree, to be recognized at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York, where the GSA will share their story and they’ll celebrate their achievements together (Have you nominated your GSA yet, or one you know?)

In my view, superstar GSAs are ones whose conversations trickle into larger classroom discussions. They plan initiatives that make their school more inclusive, like LGBTQ Pride Month, LGBTQ-inclusive proms, or GLSEN programs like Day of Silence or No Name-Calling Week. But above all, they provide critical, life-changing support, even when it’s not coming from the federal government – and that’s worth celebrating.

Michelle Eisenberg is the advisor of the Academy for Young Writers GSA, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year. Nominate your GSA for this year’s honor before March 1.

Nominate your GSA for GSA of the Year! 

February 26, 2017

Photo of Spencer Washington and John King
Spencer Washington of GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year, meeting with then-Education Secretary John King

Last month, along with other LGBTQ student leaders, I met with then-Secretary of Education John King to discuss how the U.S. Department of Education can create schools that are more inclusive of LGBTQ students. We discussed ways they could provide resources for schools and create inclusive polices around sex education, all-gender bathrooms, and more.

Former Secretary King sat and listened to my story as a trans student of color in New York City, as well as the stories of other students who have both similar and different backgrounds: students who go to religious schools, students who live in North Carolina, students who are the only openly LGBTQ person at their school. It really opened up my eyes to how much power youth can hold, especially when they come together.

Now, with people in power like Secretary DeVos, who unlike former Secretary King, hasn’t shown allyship to people like me (her department just took away guidance for protecting trans students), we need to celebrate the power of youth coming together to make change in their local communities. Often, it’s students who come together as GSAs or similar student clubs that have a real impact on their schools  – and that’s something worth celebrating, especially when there’s no support coming from the White House.

Photo of Spencer Washington at #ProtectTransYouth Rally in NYC
Spencer Washington at a rally after the reversal of the Title IX guidance for protecting trans students

Having a GSA in school is like the first collision in a row of dominoes. First, it helps LGBTQ students and their allies, but the effect quickly spreads to the entire school community. GSAs provide a space for students to share their stories and build relationships with their classmates. They also help start conversations about LGBTQ students’ and staff concerns and even legal needs.

Last year, GLSEN recognized my school’s GSA as GSA of the Year, and they’re now searching for this year’s honoree, which will earn a free trip to New York City to share their story at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York. I urge you to nominate your GSA or another one you know. Our work in making schools more LGBTQ-inclusive isn’t stopping now; it’s only becoming more and more important.

Spencer Washington is a leader of the Academy for Young Writers GSA, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year. Nominate your GSA for this year’s honor before March 1.

Nominate your GSA for GSA of the Year!

February 24, 2017

Photo of "Protect Trans Youth" sign at a rally

You may have heard that the President is trying to stop transgender students from using the bathrooms they feel most comfortable in. If you're reading this, the Title IX guidance for protecting transgender students has been withdrawn. All of this probably sounds pretty intense, and kinda scary. 

First of all, take a deep breath. Know that we're all in this together and that GLSEN is with you. But also know that the fight for equal rights and social justice is ongoing, especially for Queer and Trans People of Color (RIP Keke Collier). People all around the world protest and demand fair treatment from governments, schools, and each other all the time.

Injustice isn't new, but what is new is an administration that's actively picking on trans students. That's just not right. Every student should be able to go to school in peace.

Real talk, I've been wracking my brain all day for the right words to say and resources to share. I reached out to our National Student Council so that they too could weigh in on the following suggestions:

1.  Gather your GSA and check in with each other. If folks are fried from talking politics, give space for dance parties or poetry.
2.  Make sure to keep using people's correct pronouns and chosen names. Use these GSA resources on trans inclusivity and storytelling through poetry.
3.  See if your school is down to post their school values, so every student knows they're supported and affirmed.
4.  Take a night off! Watch One Day At A Time on Netflix, and soak in the story of a Latinx family navigating love, feminism, and queerness.
5.  Dive into really good music. Right now, I'm taking comfort in Solange's A Seat At The Table.
6.  Add some love to GLSEN's Wall of Kindness.
7. Join one of the many demonstrations happening today in support of trans students. There are rallies planned in Boston and NYC. For NYC folks: GLSEN will be at the   Stonewall rally today. Email and let us know where other rallies are happening! As we learn of more rallies, we're listing them here
8. Start prepping activities and events for GLSEN’s Day of Silence, the largest non-violent student protest in the nation.
9. Voice your concerns, personal experiences, and demands by joining our #ClaimYourRights campaign! GLSEN and PFLAG will help students file complaints to the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education. 

Remember: No matter what the current President does, he can't fire us. Your school has the responsibility to protect you. You have the right to demand protection. Your peers have the right to rise up in solidarity with you. Also, there are allies everywhere, from lawyers ready to fight for your rights to educators rallying in support of trans students. Now is the time to lean on allies for support. GLSEN is with you, too.

We’re all here surviving and thriving together. No administration can take that from us. Ever. Power to students everywhere. And remember, move with gentleness and love for each other. Take deep breaths and know that you're not alone. The fight for equal rights never ends: it evolves.

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Gabby Rivera is the Youth Programs Manager at GLSEN.

February 24, 2017

Photo of "Protect Trans Youth" sign at a rally

As many of you likely know, the Trump administration rescinded the Title IX guidance on protecting trans youth. While this action did not end the protections trans students have under federal law, I'm sure it created fear and uncertainty for your students and their families.

You have probably been watching this new administration make decision after decision that disrespects your students (and maybe yourselves) and seeing the heightened emotions seep into your classroom. As a former educator myself, I remember how difficult it can feel to have to put your feelings on hold while you constantly put your students first. It can be overwhelming, always wanting to stay informed and protect your students, especially when that means making time for the emotionally-charged media and now wading through legal jargon. 

We want you to know that GLSEN is here to support you. 

Educators can make a difference by ensuring their students and broader school communities know that transgender students are still protected and they still have rights. They are valued. They are loved. 

What can you do?

Be Mindful: Your transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) students need your words of encouragement, support, and focus right now. Talk to your students or GSAs and give them space to voice their feelings.  

Share your Values: Last November, GLSEN joined nine national education organizations to announce a national call to action, affirming the rights of all students to attend school in an environment free from fear and violence. Use this resource to call on your administration to affirm their commitment to protecting transgender students. 

Educate to Support: Make sure your colleagues, students, and school administration know that Title IX still protects transgender students’ rights to a safe learning environment, free from bullying and harassment.      

Stay Informed: Sign up for GLSEN UP to receive information about how you can directly take part in policy and organizing actions that protect transgender and GNC students in your community and across the country.

Use Resources: GLSEN’s trans-supportive policies, lesson plans, and Pronoun Resource can help you create and sustain a positive learning environment that supports transgender and gender nonconforming students.     

Get Connected: You are not alone! Reach out in the Educator Forum to connect to other educators across the country who want to hear from other people who are supporting trans and GNC students in schools. 

Show Support: Your students, especially your trans and LGB students, may be feeling panicked by the change in the Title IX guidance. Address their concerns and make sure they feel welcome and affirmed. Print this picture to hang in your classroom to show your trans students that they are loved. 

Trans students, you are loved graphic with balloon and hearts

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Becca Mui is the Education Manager at GLSEN.

February 14, 2017

Photo of GLSEN National Student Council member Keress WeidnerPhoto by Wunmi Onibudo

Navigating romantic relationships as a queer youth is often like finding a light switch in the dark. Sometimes, you trip over things and fall face-first onto the unforgiving floor. It might take years to find that light switch. Someone might even block off your path and keep you in the dark.

That light switch represents self-care and a whole and unfettered queer identity. That light switch is the knowledge that you have the right to set your boundaries and demand they be respected. It’s your autonomy and the ownership of your own health.

When I went to sex ed in my high-school health class, all they did was show us pictures of STIs and STDs and tell us to practice abstinence. We never went over consent, the forms of abuse, or even what a healthy relationship looks like. According to GLSEN’s recent report, LGBTQ students were less likely to find their sex-education classes useful compared to non-LGBTQ students, and I can understand why that discrepancy may be.

Last year, I’d just gotten out of an abusive relationship, and I still couldn’t wrap my head around just how few resources I had. Because of this lack of resources, I didn’t even realize I was being abused until after I left the relationship.

To this day, I still doubt myself. Many people don’t believe that youth can be in abusive relationships unless the abuse is physical and the perpetrator is a man. My abuser, a genderfluid woman, was not physically abusive, but she was still abusive. She belittled me for my gender, my mental health, and my religious beliefs, and she guilted me into public affection, even when I made clear I was uncomfortable.

When we first started dating, we were the only out queer students in our school. The homophobia and transphobia we experienced created a very lonely game of us-against-them throughout our school, especially when we were unfairly disciplined by a homophobic teacher and principal that year. I think it was this isolation I felt that made me stay in the relationship so long.

I’m a big sap and a hopeless romantic, and although I love Valentine’s Day, I sometimes find myself avoiding the holiday. I remember the Valentine’s Days that passed when we were dating. The first was right after I tried to break up with her the first time, and she gave me several gifts I knew I couldn’t reciprocate. Though she never said it outright, she conveyed that she would hurt herself if I left, and I believed her, as if I were responsible for her health instead of my own.

I couldn’t come to my family. I wasn’t out for much of the relationship, and even when I was, my family still needed to come to terms with my queer identity before I could tell them about the relationship. And with most of my friends wrapped around my partner’s finger, I was completely isolated until we broke up.

When we finally broke up, we both attended a meeting at our school’s GSA, of which I’m now president. At the meeting, she took out her phone and showed the entire club an argument we had. Out of context, it looked like I had been angry out of nowhere, but the club couldn’t see the long history that came before. All of a sudden, people became very distant and even rude to me, and it took two years to break free from the effects my abuser had on the people around me.

The damage had already been done by the time I realized that schools could take part in preventing abuse by teaching what healthy relationships, including queer relationships, look like. No one told me that I was going to spend so long doubting myself and that the abuse wasn’t my fault. No one told me that abuse can show up in all aspects of life: our spiritual paths, our financial standing, our bodies, our minds, our social lives. No one told me that I am the one who has unquestionable autonomy over myself and my choices.

All youth deserve LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed that covers healthy relationships. This Valentine’s Day, during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, I urge you to contact your state’s department of education about their sex-ed curriculum and how to include healthy relationships in that education. Parents can have honest conversations with their children about boundaries and what makes a relationship work. School counselors can be open and transparent about their desire to support students who are struggling with abusive relationships. You can guide someone to the light switch, and illuminate the room.

Keress Weidner is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact Love Is Respect, a hotline specifically for teens and young adults who have questions about dating violence.
Call 24/7/365: 1 (866) 331-9474
Text: LOVEIS TO 22522

Additional Resources

The Anti-Violence Project
Manhattan, NY: (212) 714-1184
24-hour Bilingual English/Spanish hotline: (212) 714-1141

Center for Anti-Violence Education
Brooklyn, NY: (718) 788-1775
Self-defense classes, free for survivors and special programs for trans youth

The Network la Red
Boston, MA
Hotline: (617) 742-4911
Survivor-led advocacy group for trans inclusion in survivor programs and shelters

NYC Domestic Violence Hotline
24-hour Bilingual English/Spanish: 1 (800) 621-4673

Sanctuary for Families
Manhattan, NY: (212) 349-6009
Counseling for trans women survivors, especially immigrants and victims of sex trafficking

Safe Horizon
Manhattan, NY
Intimate partner violence hotline: (800) 621-4673
Rape, sexual assault and incest survivor hotline: (212) 227-3000

Trans Pride Intiative
Dallas, TX: (214) 449-1439
Advocates for making shelters more inclusive of trans women