A student and a teacher in a classroom

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.