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An Educators Role In Affirming Transgender Youth

A national survey by GLSEN has found that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school.

The survey concludes that those who persevere have significantly lower GPAs.

These students are more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety,

They are less likely to continue furthering their education after high school. 

So, what do these statements mean for educators? 

Educators have a unique and prominent role in the lives of these children. For some, teachers are the only safe adults in their lives because their parents and siblings are non-affirming. Moreover, teachers are the first adults to see bullying and hostile treatment from other students. And they are the first people who can respond in a way that makes a transgender child feel validated and safe. Below are 5 simples ways to affirm transgender children in your classroom.

  1. Use preferred pronouns and names. This is a simple, yet impactful way to validate these children for who they are. When in doubt, have courageous conversations with the child about which pronouns they prefer. 
  2. Acknowledge and react to mistreatment from other children. It is no secret that mental health is a serious concern in the transgender community. One cause of depression and suicidal thoughts in transgender children is bullying. Do everything you can to prevent it. 
  3. Focus on the whole child. Transgender children are so much more than a pronoun. Find out what gives them joy. Talk with them about books, hobbies, or other activities they enjoy. Praise them for the beautiful person they are. 
  4. Educate your colleagues. Sometimes, people’s bias is unintended and comes from a place of misunderstanding or the consumption of disinformation. So, do what you can to educate your peers. Share resources and information that supports the affirmation of transgender children.
  5. Think of creative ways to divide your classroom activities. Even after she transitioned, my daughter was instructed to line up in the boys line in gym class. Her reaction was embarrassment and hurt feelings. The gym teacher publicly shamed my daughter in front of her peers. Despite a 504 instructing the teacher to come up with creative ways to divide the class, it persisted. Ideas can be anything from your favorite color or guess the number. Have fun with it. Dividing into the binary is so 2000.
  6. Don’t overthink everything. Above all, transgender children want to be loved and accepted just like every other child in the class. Therefore, sticking to this basic principle will yield dividends in terms of a trusting, reciprocal, healthy relationship with your student. 

For more incredible suggestions subscribe to one of my favorite newsletters targeted towards educators. Time To Thrive is an annual conference held by the Human Rights Campaign. Their monthly newsletter is a bright spot in my day. Most important, in your classroom, make sure all are welcome.

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Disrupter

“Let’s conjure up, from the depth of our souls:

The truest, most beautiful lives we can imagine.

The truest, most beautiful families we can fathom.

The truest, most beautiful world we can hope for.”

~Glennon Doyle, Untamed, 2020

I feel lost. Succumbing to the undertow and being swept out to sea. The overt oppression, police violence, unkindness, greed, and yes, the virus. The damn virus. I have stepped away from my passion, my calling, because I am under siege by the virus. Finding the path through the storm, foraging forward, and putting on a brave face as a provider in a health system that people are undermining for political gain. 

When I read the above quote by Glennon Doyle, it called to me. In reality, her book should call to all of us to rise above the social constructs and niceties that chain us down. To imagine in terms of love and light, not mired down in the despair of the known, but to reach down into our soul to find the path forward. The beauty in what can be, rather than what is. For a million reasons, I have been buried in what is. From this point forward, I am taking back my power. I am making the conscious choice to walk into the vision of what our world, our nation, my community can be. 

Ironically, much of the recent rhetoric is focused on dismantling social constructs that are chaining down those who are marginalized. Those benefiting from such ideals, beliefs, and institutions are reluctant to relinquish their privilege even if they are granted such privilege by stepping on the backs of those in their wake. So, when I imagine and work towards my truest, most beautiful….I find myself struggling with what is.  What is, quite frankly, is really scary, sad, and hard for the trans community. 

My truest, most beautiful life and family does not include neighbors discussing whether my daughter can compete in sports against their kids. They are not discussing whether my child should have access to hormones. We don’t have to leave the public school system because of, discrimination, and lack of services for her learning difference.

Moreover, in my truly beautiful world, authors with the power of the literary pen and leaders of countries do not use their power to legislate, discriminate, marginalize, and oppress in the name of their racist agenda. The naysayers use words like socialism, communism, and liberal. Which are all, ironically, social constructs that people use to manipulate. To pigeon-hole the believers into a winner-takes-all, us and them syndrome. That somehow by allowing in the beauty and light will somehow diminish theirs. When in fact, the synergy of positivity, inclusivity, and togetherness will bring prosperity for us all. 

It is through connection, affirmation, and respecting our individual uniqueness that we appreciate the complexity of our human experience. In summary, without each piece of the puzzle, the whole is solitary and void of the abundant richness of our humanity.