Adults have a duty to help trans youth feel safe. These activists show us where to start.

Composite. Headshot of "Advocate Educator's Handbook" author Vanessa Ford/Book Cover/headshot of author Rebecca Kling
Vanessa Ford (left) and Rebecca Kling (right), authors of "The Advocate Educator's Handbook" Photo: Provided

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting some of the many incredible LGBTQ+ women of both the past and present, women who overcame unimaginable obstacles to change the world.

The following is an excerpt from “The Advocate Educator’s Handbook: Creating Schools Where Transgender and Non-Binary Students Thrive” by Vanessa Ford and Rebecca Kling.

Every student deserves a learning environment in which they can thrive as their full, authentic selves. Unfortunately, some education communities include people who are uncomfortable discussing trans identity, don’t prioritize supporting trans students, and may even be actively seeking to harm trans people. But, fortunately, there is always something we can do to respond — whether it’s one individual student making inappropriate jokes or picking on another student, a parent objecting to classroom discussions about LGBTQ identity, or an elected official or other policymaker attempting to pass laws or policies that harm trans students. 

As adults in education communities, regardless of our specific role, we can disrupt harm and attempt to steer things back toward education, affirmation, and inclusion. That may look like intervening when a student is being bullied, or taking the time to talk to a parent or guardian who is confused about what really is (and isn’t!) happening in their child’s school. At the community level, that may look like testifying at a city council meeting or speaking with a state legislator. It may mean elevating the voices of trans and non-binary students, as award-winning librarian Julie Stivers did in 2023 when she read remarks from her students at a public hearing—Stivers gave her students an opportunity to share their voices without them having to speak in public and risk potential backlash.

Ideally, school leaders and principals should be at the forefront of this work, and be the main disrupter of anti-trans sentiment. (It’s worth noting that many teachers who leave their school cite the principal, not the school as a whole, as why they’re leaving.) As the face of the school, it’s important that the person in this role has plans in place to address pushback against trans rights from other students, staff, and the broader community.

But whether you’re a teacher, a principal, other support staff, or a community member, we acknowledge that vocally supporting trans and non-binary students—and disrupting those who would attack them—can be uncomfortable, particularly if it’s new to you, and especially if your school or district isn’t supportive of trans students. If that’s the situation you’re in, we encourage you to find allies in your community and return back to your core educational values. Ultimately, school should be a safe place for all students to learn, including those who are trans and non-binary.

Regardless of your role, it’s also important to remember that trans youth in schools are, first and foremost, like any other group of students: They need supportive teachers, inclusive learning environments, a range of extracurricular activities, opportunities to make friends, and help navigating the difficult journey from childhood to adulthood. In most instances, trans students have more in common with their cis peers than not, and teachers should ask the same questions about trans students that they ask about any students: Do they understand the material? Do they have the knowledge and support needed to complete their assignments? Is there anything happening outside of class that might be making it more difficult for them to learn?

Similarly, trans students have the same rights as any other student to not be the target of bullying or gossip, to have their privacy respected, and to be physically and emotionally safe at school. Educators must also remember that trans students come from all races, classes, religions, family structures, and more. Trans students have different abilities and come in all shapes and sizes. Focusing on a certain type of trans person, or assuming all trans students come from a particular race or socioeconomic background, means that you will inevitably be leaving out trans students who don’t conform to those expectations. Teachers who make that mistake will fall short celebrating the beautiful diversity that exists within the trans community (and, indeed, in every community).

We live in odd times. For some trans youth, there has never been a better time to be a student: there are legal protections and informed school staff and supportive parents and wonderful local trans communities. For some trans youth, there has never been a more difficult time to be a student: there are anti‐trans laws and policies and ignorant school staff and unsupportive parents and little or no local trans community. But we’re all in this together, and advocating for and with trans and non‐binary students is key to ensure that the trans and non‐binary students of today grow into the amazing adults of tomorrow.

Rebecca Kling (she/her) is a nationally-known transgender activist and advocate for equal rights. She is the co-owner of the social impact consulting firm Better World Collaborative and previously served as the Education Programming Director at the National Center for Transgender Equality. Rebecca is also currently on the leadership team of Harbor Camps, a camp for transgender and gender variant youth, and she taught middle and high school theater for years. Her advocacy has been featured in the Washington Post, the Guardian, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her two cats. You can learn more about Rebecca’s work at and

Vanessa Ford (she/her) is an award-winning educator and author. Her children’s book, Calvin, won the 2022 Lambda Literary Award for Best Children’s Book. Ford was a classroom teacher for 14 years in DC Public Schools and her advocacy has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Newsweek and NPR. She was a founding member of The Human Rights Campaign’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council and sat for 2 years on the board of the National Center for Transgender Equality. She lives with her husband and two children, one of whom is trans, near Boston. Learn more about Vanessa’s work at .

Don't forget to share:

This article includes links that may result in a small affiliate share for purchased products, which helps support independent LGBTQ+ media.

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Alabama GOP passes extreme “gag order” to ban diversity discussions in universities

Previous article

Moms for Liberty co-founder sues to keep her threesome sext messages private

Next article