Bringing Transgender Justice into Services-based Organizations

Growing up transgender is never easy. Trans youth face high rates of violence, with more than three-quarters of trans students feeling unsafe in school. The majority have experienced verbal harassment in the classroom, and one-quarter suffer physical harassment.

Despite these alarming statistics, Trans Student Educational Resources is currently the only national organization run by trans youth and the only one focusing specifically on trans students. Now more than ever we need service-based organizations to step up and support the work, lives and well-being of young transgender people.

With the Trump administration’s new attacks on trans youth, ranging from bolstering states’ “rights” (to discriminate) to ending protections for LGBTQ federal employees, we need to mobilize people from all backgrounds to speak out for transgender justice. Individuals and organizations that typically provide immediate, direct services can work toward long-term solutions to violence against trans youth via three simple measures: getting educated on trans issues, showing up for trans youth at events and creating a policy at your local educational institutions.

Supporting trans youth starts with one easy step: getting educated on transgender issues. There are many different websites and resources available for non-transgender people to learn about transgender people and intersections of the community. TSER’s website has numerous resources, ranging from model policies to comprehensive LGBT definitions to infographics you can use to learn about trans experience. You can print these materials to educate others at your workplace.

Additionally, organizations like National Center for Transgender Equality, Transgender Law Center and Gender Spectrum have materials focused on supporting trans people in ways ranging from legal intervention to medical care. When transgender people know you’re educated on trans issues, we feel more comfortable working with you and asking for help. Learning about terminology, statistics and critical issues we face is a crucial first step to supporting us.

However, simply educating others and yourself can only go so far. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper was very knowledgeable on transgender issues when he took office, yet still signed HB 142 (dubbed HB 2.0), which continues HB 2’s legacy of banning transgender people from the correct restrooms and prohibiting anti-discrimination policies statewide.

Someone can be informed on problems trans people face but still not fight for us. That’s why physically showing up at trans events and causes is vital to demonstrate your support for trans people. In 2016, it took thousands of people protesting HB 2 for former conservative North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory to be defeated in election, preventing him from passing more transphobic legislation. North Carolinians saw communities protesting online and in the streets and learned about the damage caused by HB 2.

By showing up at trans events you are not only providing direct support for transgender youth, you are also showing your organization or practice is explicitly pro-transgender and will not tolerate transphobia. Physically going to events, donating to organizations and speaking out are pathways to long-term change for the trans community.

Finally, it is also essential that we follow up with policy change. Policies cannot be trans youth’s first line of defense and are often ignored. However, they can clarify that trans youth have access to other programs and facilities with others of our gender and also help establish a more safe and friendly environment. If you work with k-12 schools or colleges, there are model policies for trans youth that can simply be changed to fit the institution’s existing rules.

Policy can help establish trans-specific guidelines for creating gender-neutral restrooms, easier record changes and new educational material on transgender issues. The limitations of policies do not outweigh their benefits, but it is important to recognize that the most impactful changes come from a shift in understanding rather than just regulation.

In the future, I hope we will no longer need policy as a means of protecting trans students because we will be able to support one another through our interpersonal relationships. Fostering a climate of advocacy for trans youth is foundational to transgender justice.

As trans youth, we are a powerful community that can advocate for ourselves. However, we also need support from outside groups to enhance our safety and well-being during such a dangerous time. Whether learning about trans issues, going to trans events or enacting new rules at your institution that specifically support trans students, it is critical that we receive your support to enrich our lives and prevent violence against us. Transgender justice comes from many communities working together and creating an environment where all young trans people can thrive.

Eli Erlick is a 21-year-old queer, transgender youth activist, writer and public speaker. She is the director of Trans Student Educational Resources, a national youth-led organization dedicated to transforming the educational environment for trans students.


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