During my first semester of college, I experienced a moment of allyship from my professor that I will always value. One week my gender dysphoria spiked after a customer at my job misgendered and laughed at me in front of the whole store. The humiliation from that moment lasted for days, and the depression and social anxiety that resulted from it hindered me from being able to focus on the research paper my English teacher had assigned. I ended up pulling an all-nighter and the result of that was an unfinished paper that I did not want to turn in. Everyone in the class handed in their papers and when it was my turn I decided to ask the professor if I could get an extension. This simple question quickly turned into me crying to my professor about how emotionally exhausted I was and how disappointed I was with my work. My professor was sympathetic and patiently listened to me vent. She gave me another week to finish my assignment and assured me that I could talk to her if I ever needed help or just a listening ear. She also advised me to join a couple of LGBTQ+-centered clubs that I never knew we had in school. I appreciated how much she cared that I was aware that there were other trans students on campus with whom I could relate.
-Jubilee Otero Bravo
Transgender and nonbinary students face numerous challenges that may impede their ability to perform well in school. According to the CDC, in 2019, one-third of transgender high school students reported experiencing bullying at school, 35 percent attempted suicide at least once, and over 50 percent reported feeling sad or hopeless.
This year, the struggles that gender diverse children experience have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the news that 2020 has been one of the deadliest years on record for transgender people. Trans youth have been isolated at home, away from friends who may support them, and surrounded by family members who may not even know who they are. As educators, we can offer a beacon of hope for students who need it most.
1. Start With Self-Education
One of the first steps to support any community unlike your own is self-education. Self-education is three-tier: You must determine how much you do not know, unlearn harmful misconceptions, and acquire new knowledge. Participating in trans-specific professional development is an excellent first step (GLSEN has compiled a webinar and workshop resource list). But these trainings will not suffice on their own. Educators must familiarize themselves with trans and nonbinary students’ needs before providing direct support. Being prepared can help teachers avoid embarrassing themselves and their students. Trans and nonbinary students are usually capable of telling others how they want to be treated. Still, it is the educator’s job to create a welcoming environment where students feel empowered and invited to share their needs.
2. Consider the Accessibility of Your Resources
Gender diverse students’ lives are greatly impacted by the treatment they receive at home, especially if they are rejected by their parents or guardians. Parents and caregivers of all backgrounds and experiences, including those who are immigrants, deserve basic, culturally relevant education on transgender identity that is ADA accessible and available in multiple languages.
Parents of trans children and even trans children themselves are not immune to internalizing the negative portrayals of trans people in the media. Sometimes guardians’ fear for their children’s safety may look like mistreatment or rejection. Educators must be careful not to blame a family’s cultural background for their lack of support. Instead, seek ways to meet the family where they are. Find resources in their native tongue and trans LGBTQ+ educators from a similar background who are willing to guide you.
3. Create a Mental Health Crisis Plan
Familiarize yourself with the support services of local LGBTQ+ organizations in order to create a plan should a mental health crisis arise. Your crisis plan should be available to all students at any time. Mental health crises are sure to arise, and it is imperative that we do not expose students to additional violence by recommending resources that may put them in danger.
Reconsider any mental health crisis plan that includes police involvement. Persons with physical and cognitive disabilities, as well as Indigenous, Black, Latine, and Asian LGBTQ+ youth and their families, experience disproportionate rates of contact with the criminal justice system. A recent report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that 40 percent of girls in juvenile justice facilities identify as LGBTQ+ and 85 percent of those youth are of color. Please understand the risk of traumatizing already over-policed communities in your efforts to provide support. You may risk damaging the trust of a student and their family by inviting law enforcement to their home without consent or notice. Involuntary mental health detainment can be a traumatic experience in and of itself, any crisis plan must center harm reduction at all cost.