Today we’re sending out a big WE SEE YOU to all the students facing targeted attacks on your right to be, your right to pee, your right to play, your right to affirming health care, and your right to talk about your truths. We acknowledge your pain and your energy and bravery. We pledge to fight discrimination against trans students and youth.
Rates of legislative and school board policy attacks on transgender and gender-diverse youth have skyrocketed in the past few years.
But victories in court and executive branch policies are also making progress in protecting you.
We’re not going to say it is easy to exist amid a fight over your rights. But we do have hope for the future, and we hope that we can share some helpful information today.
If It’s Happening To You
We’ll link to several court cases below and who to contact if your state is considering or has passed laws that harm you. But what if it’s happening at your local school board meetings?
Tips For Facing Discrimination
Be In Community
Your Peers: People your age are much more likely to support LGBTQ+ rights than their parents or grandparents. You can find community through people you are already friends with, school activities and clubs, local programs, and online. There are definite benefits to in-person support, but online community is just as valuable and real. See our favorite online resources for teens. TransFamilies also hosts youth zoom groups, game nights, and a discord.
Your Adults: we hope that your immediate circle of adults – your family or guardians, teachers, school counselors, coaches, pastors, hair stylists, bus drivers, therapists, nurses, and doctors – are supportive, but we know they might not be. We also know that just one affirming adult can make a huge difference. Look for adults already openly supportive of LGBTQ+ students, like openly out teachers or GSA advisors. If you have a local LGBTQ+ community center, PFLAG, or Free Mom Hugs group, they are excellent places to find affirming adults.
Your Allies and Accomplices: Look for advocates and activists. If you are in a state that has passed transphobic laws, who are the people fighting back? Join the conversations.
Take Care Of Yourself
Stress takes a toll on the body. Do things that help you feel good, energized, and grounded.
Self-Care looks different for everyone, but there are a few constants:
Your Physical Needs
A diverse diet is more likely to have more nutrients, which can help your body deal with stressful situations. Try to eat fresh foods like fruits and vegetables before processed foods like chips and sweets. Try to limit sugary drinks like soda and limit how many fried foods you eat. We also know that it can be hard to control your diet, and fresh foods are not accessible to many people. If you or your family receives food benefits, your state may have resources for learning healthy and easy recipes and nutrition education.
Youth need sleep, which may be the hardest to get during your teen years. There may not be enough hours in the day to get all the rest you need after activities, schoolwork, your duties at home, and all your other responsibilities, but sleep hygiene can help you get better sleep:
- Don’t take your electronics to bed! It’s harder to fall asleep while scrolling or playing a game. Even the passive light of a phone can disrupt your sleep. This includes TVs in the bedroom, too! Get dark! Your sleep cycles are partially regulated by how much light you have around you. Turn the lights off.
- Limit caffeine in the afternoons and evenings. It can keep you awake.
- Try to make relaxing before bed a habit. Do things that are relaxing rather than stressful or energizing before bedtime. If you create a routine, your body will eventually learn the signals for “it’s time to go to sleep!”
- If you can’t sleep, don’t stay in bed. If you cannot fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time, get up and go to another room if you can. Try a low-energy activity for a little while and then go back to bed.
- NOTE: the above tips apply to neurotypical brains. If you (or your youth) is neurodivergent, you may find that you need to do things differently, and sleep can be especially challenging for ND folx. Light sensory activity from visual or auditory input at bedtime can be regulating and calming (if you’re using a phone, do turn on the blue light filters a couple of hours before bedtime!) Many individuals report that caffeine is a valuable tool in their ADHD bedtime routine. And a burst of activity before bed can help prepare bodies with ND brains for a good night’s sleep. And morning light exposure can help regulate circadian rhythms to prep for the next night’s sleep, too.
Get moving. The US Department of Health recommends that teens get 60 minutes of physical activity daily. But! This doesn’t have to happen all at once, and even getting just 10 minutes of moderate exercise a day helps.
Important: all activity counts! That 3-minute walk in the halls between classes counts. If you do that ten times during a school day, you’ve achieved 30 minutes of exercise by the end of the school day!
- De-stressing: Who can you talk to about the hard things?
- What activities do you like to do that feel good? These can be anything from listening or dancing to music to a nice hot mug of tea, spending time with pets or people, reading, a long bath, your favorite TV show, a craft, a regular run, gardening, or sitting in your favorite park – or anything else that helps you take a break.
- Building positive habits and routines – if you’re constantly making decisions, your brain and body can get fatigued. Creating patterns that help you make fewer daily decisions can free up space and energy.
- People who “get” us can help keep us healthy.
Your Big WHY
- For some people, their big WHY is their religion or their spirituality, but it doesn’t have to be.
- What are your guiding principles, and how do they influence your day-to-day life?
- What things can you do to help you live your WHY (hint – combining your WHY with a de-stressing or community activity can multiply its impact.)
- HOPE. Hope is huge, and hope comes in many forms. If you’re struggling with discriminatory laws and policies, it may help to look toward those who have lived through similar circumstances. For stories of youth who have fought back, check out
- Gavin Grimm, who sued his school for bathroom access and won (and just published the book If You’re a Kid Like Gavin)
- Kai Shappley, who has testified against discriminatory laws in the Texas legislature
- 11 Young Activists Leading The Way
- in recent news: middle school students kept a database of a teacher’s discriminatory actions towards girls. The teacher is now on leave while an investigation proceeds
- all the court cases below.
Ask For Support and Take Action
It’s hard being the focus of a discriminatory law or policy! You shouldn’t have to face it alone.
Here’s a widely used explanation of support circles from grief therapists known as ring theory. The idea is that you ask for help going outwards and provide support going inwards.
“Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.”
From “How not to say the wrong thing” Los Angeles Times, 4/7/2013
If you’re in the center ring, ask out for help. If you’re in a larger ring, help in, and ask out for additional help.
If you need help, first ask those closest to you.
For situations at school, this could be your family, teachers or advisors, fellow students, and the larger community.
If your school has discriminatory policies
or your school board is considering enacting discriminatory policies, here are some things to think about:
You have the right to speak up about policies that affect you.
- Talk to your family about how “out there” you may want to be
- Find out who is in charge of the decision, how decisions are made, and the timeline for those decisions.
- Consider writing letters to the local paper, putting up flyers at your library or community center, or starting a letter-writing campaign or a petition.
- Consider attending school board meetings by yourself or with family and friends. How visible do you want to be at that meeting, and how vocal?
- Ask your friends and community to support you by showing up and speaking out at those meetings. Often, people don’t know what their local school board is doing.
- Spread the word and ask others to spread the word!
- Consider running for school board! Some districts include students on the school board (14% of the 495 largest school districts in the United States,) some allow 18 year olds to run for the position.
- Contact legal organizations who can help. Three big orgs are the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and NCLR.
Do You Want To Be An Organizer?
Learn about organizing at school. GLSEN youth membership can help with the skills and knowledge to be a school leader and organizer. The GSA Network has a great resource page for leadership programs.
As we discussed last week, you have the right to protest. It might get you in trouble, and part of the decision to protest is deciding how much risk you want to take on. We think the National Youth Rights Association has a pretty good guide for things to think about before protesting.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has guides geared toward college and university students for protesting on campus.
A powerful form of protest is simple refusal. Refuse to comply. We can’t advise you to do this, but we can tell you about it.
Noncompliance also carries risks that may be more immediate than going to a protest someone else organized. A bystander may be more likely to react aggressively to someone refusing to comply with a bathroom ban than to a street full of protestors.
Noncompliance in groups: It can be incredibly powerful when many people refuse to do something together.
Each person gets to decide how much risk they are willing to take on. For your teachers and school staff who refuse to comply with discrimination, know that they may be risking their careers and livelihoods.
These types of protests are often called “nonviolent protests.” If you’re considering participating in or organizing a nonviolent protest, we strongly encourage you to research tactics, history and shared knowledge.
- Stories and examples of nonviolent protest in the United States.
- Center for Applied Nonviolence Safety Training.
- International Institute for Nonviolent Action handbook
Follow the Groups or People Doing The Work
Powerhouse organizations on Insta:
ACLU, Lambda Legal, the NCLR, TransEquality,
Individual activists or orgs on Twitter:
Erin Reed, the Trans Formations Project, Chase Strangio, and Alejandra Caraballo.
What Are The Laws and Policies In Your State?
Discriminatory laws are often immediately challenged. One of the first steps in a lawsuit is to ask the court to block the law from being enforced or going into effect (often called “enjoined”) while the case progresses.
Instead of detailing each bill and law in each state, we’d like to direct you to Track Trans Legislation. You can use their tool to see the status of anti-trans bills in states across the United States. You can filter by state, bill type (including youth athletics, youth healthcare, and educational restrictions), and bill status. The most common bills, laws, and policies right now seek to restrict:
- access to health care for trans youth,
- Equal access to educational programs such as athletics
- Gender affirming school policies such as restroom access and name and pronoun use
- Student privacy (such as required disclosure to parents/legal guardians about gender identity, counseling, or psychological data)
- Student and educator free speech (such as Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill)
Track Trans Legislation also contains a tool to help you create a letter, email, or phone script to contact your legislators.
We want to highlight some court victories and active cases. For the current status of laws in your state, we recommend your state ACLU chapter, the Lambda Legal In Your State tool, and Legal Help Desk and the NCLR. Yes, we keep linking to them, but they’re that good.
A quick break to talk about the federal court system:
Federal courts deal with questions of constitutionality and federal law. A state law challenged on a constitutional basis is tried in US District Court. Appeals to District Court cases are heard at the Circuit Court Level. Appeals to Circuit Court decisions may go to the Supreme Court.
A ruling in a district court only applies to the state the court is in. A circuit court ruling affects all of the states in that region. A ruling at the Supreme Court applies to the entire United States of America. For more detailed information:
The lawyers, organizations, and firms fighting trans and LGBTQ discrimination are ON IT.
For example, the Florida banned Medicaid coverage of gender affirming care on August 11, 2022. On September7th, Lambda Legal filed a suit. Often (but not always,) discriminatory laws are blocked from going into effect while the court cases proceed.
Some Recent Court Cases and Governmental Actions
June 2021: Department of Justice files statements in two court cases (West Virginia and Arkansas) that athletic and healthcare bans for transgender youth are unconstitutional. The US Department of Justice is on our side.
We talked about Title IX last week. The Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Health and Human Services enforces the rights protections contained in Title IX. Under the current administration, gender, gender expression, perceived gender, and gender identity are included in anti-discrimination policies. We are in a moment where the federal government supports our civil rights (well, the executive branch, at least.)
Here’s some feel-good information on cases recently filed, discriminatory laws blocked, and cases won:
Tennessee: September 2022 – a lawsuit is filed challenging Tennessee’s SB228, which bans transgender students from participating on teams that align with their gender. https://www.aclu.org/cases/le-v-lee
Utah: August 2022- the Third District Court of Utah blocks enforcement of HB 11, which prohibited all transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams. https://www.nclrights.org/about-us/press-release/utah-court-halts-law-barring-transgender-girls-from-playing-on-girls-sports-teams/
West Virginia: July 2021 – a federal court blocked West Virginia from enforcing a law banning transgender girls from participating in school sports. This case is currently at the US District Court level. https://www.aclu.org/cases/bpj-v-west-virginia-state-board-education
Idaho: August 2020 – US District Court blocks Idaho law prohibiting transgender women from participating in women’s student athletics. https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/judge-blocks-first-law-targeting-transgender-athletes-case-continues
Arkansas: August 2022: Eighth Circuit US Court Of Appeals upholds a decision blocking Arkansas from implementing a law prohibiting gender affirming care for minors. https://www.aclu.org/cases/walker-et-al-v-marshall-et-al
Alabama: August 2022: District Court blocks enforcement of Alabama law SB184, which criminalizes parents seeking gender affirming medical care for their children. Youth in Alabama can continue to receive gender affirming care. nclrights.org/about-us/press-release/judge-halts-alabama-law-criminalizing-parents-for-obtaining-essential-medical-care-for-their-transgender-children/
Education and Access
Oklahoma: September 2022 – lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s SB615, which restricts school bathroom use, and creates disciplinary actions against individuals and schools who do not comply, is filed in US District Court. https://www.aclu.org/cases/bridge-v-oklahoma-state-department-education
Wisconsin: July 2022 – the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling supports school policies that allow students to use names and pronouns different from legal documents without notifying parents/legal guardians. https://www.aclu.org/cases/doe-v-madison-metropolitan-school-district
Virginia: August 2020 and June 2021 – Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals rules in favor of Gavin Grimm, whose right to equitable access (specifically to restrooms) was denied by his Virginia high school. In June 2021, the Supreme Court decided not to take on the school board’s appeal. https://www.aclu.org/cases/grimm-v-gloucester-county-school-board
Oregon: February 2020 – the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a District Court ruling that allowing transgender students to use bathrooms aligned with their gender does not violate cis student rights, AND prohibiting transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender is illegal discrimination. https://www.aclu.org/cases/parents-privacy-v-dallas-school-district-no-2
WE GOT YOU
If you’re an LGBTQ+ student, there are many, many people on your side. Next week, we’ll talk specifically about student-athletes.