During Back-to-School Season, Parents, Families and Individuals Send Support to Transgender Students

10 Stories from 10 States

About This Story Collection

People across the country are coming together to share their stories and support transgender youth as they head back to school. Read several stories below of parents, children, professionals, and more providing insight into what it's like to head back to school as a transgender student.

Michigan Parents Call for Love, Support, and Understanding for Transgender Youth

Peter and Sarah Tchoryk • Michigan

“The greatest thing any parent can do for their kids is to show them they are loved for who they are and for being their authentic selves,” said Peter Tchoryk, who lives in the small town of Dexter, Michigan with his wife. Peter and Sarah have three children, including a son who is transgender.

Peter and Sarah know what it’s like to watch their child grapple with discrimination – and through their work organizing with transgender advocacy groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality, they’ve seen the importance of speaking out and pushing back against discrimination.

“We want our transgender youth and families to know that they are not alone and many people are actively working with a fierce urgency to create safe and supportive schools,” Peter said. “It will get better. There are local and national resources to help families with school and community interactions, from training and advocacy to legal help.”

With back-to-school season in full swing, Peter and Sarah want to underline that despite the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind guidance on how public schools can best support transgender students, the root policy – Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – still exists and provides significant protections for transgender students.

“People need to know that many schools, ours included, successfully provide for the safety and privacy of every child – whether that child is transgender or cisgender, part of the majority or a minority,” Peter and Sarah said. “Our schools provide training to staff on diversity and inclusivity and educate students on differences, including transgender differences. It’s proven and it works.”

While it’s been challenging to see anti-transgender perspectives demonstrated so publicly in the past year, from lawmakers to anti-transgender activists to the President of the United States, Peter knows that as we confront prejudice, we also change minds.

“The positive side of visibility and the national conversation is that many people in our nation are learning the truth of what it means to be transgender or gender expansive,” he said. “We’ve reached a point in our family that anti-transgender sentiment only strengthens our resolve to tell our story, educate, and stand up for the rights of the transgender community.”

Read more of Peter and Sarah’s story on their family blog.

Indiana Veteran Sees Parallels Between Anti-Transgender Moves Targeting Service Members and Students

Kimberly Acoff • Indiana

Kimberly Acoff can empathize with transgender students headed back to school during this challenging year. She knows what it feels like to see such public, contentious debate about your fundamental dignity. That’s because Kimberly is a transgender woman and a veteran, having served in the Indiana National Guard for several years, years before the Department of Defense lifted the ban on open service for transgender people. Now that President Trump has proposed the ban again, leaving servicemembers in legal limbo, she has resurfaced unpleasant memories of needing to hide who she is in order to serve the country she loves.

“That’s not what this country is all about,” she told a local news station this summer. “We’re about giving an opportunity – not taking it away and stripping people of it.” 

Kimberly lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she works for the Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services. She’s previously worked for the Indiana Department of Child Services in Fort Wayne.

“I would encourage transgender youth to keep their head up, stay motivated, and stay positive – in spite of everything that is going on in our nation geared at attacking LGBTQ people,” she said about the coming weeks where transgender young people will be headed back to school. “History has shown us that we are a group of strong individuals – I speak from a history of knowing transgender people growing up in my young adult life, and I know that we are resilient, and that the American people in general are good-hearted people for the most part.”

She has been disturbed to see the Trump Administration roll back protections for transgender people – from transgender service members to transgender students. “When we restrict and roll back freedom for one group, we’re rolling back and restricting freedom for every American,” she said.

It’s important, then, for all Americans to raise their voices in support of transgender youth and underline that discrimination is wrong and not to be tolerated. “My experience growing up in school was in a time where people were not as educated about identity or trying to learn about the differences between children,” she said. “I felt a great void within myself. But I knew who I was, and that knowing drove me to say that I am more than who someone said I was. We have to encourage our young transgender individuals to keep their faith in themselves. They are the masters of their lives.”

New Jersey Parents – Lifelong Lutherans – Hope Transgender Students Nationwide Receive the Respect Their Daughter Does

Jamie Bruesehoff • New Jersey

For Jamie Bruesehoff and her husband, their concerns about sending their daughter Rebekah, who is transgender, back to school stem solely from the lack of guaranteed protections and a lack of support from the Trump Administration – not from local school officials themselves.

When Jamie’s daughter Rebekah started going to public school two years ago, she and her husband were nervous. They had read the statistics about transgender students who face extreme rates of bullying and harassment, and she understood how that kind of environment could jeopardize a child’s ability to learn. “We met with the principal, guidance counselor, and her teachers before the school year began,” Jamie wrote in The Huffington Post. “We shared our family’s story, offered resources, and talked about expectations. They were receptive and understanding. We held our breath when they asked what bathroom she would use, but we were relieved when they didn’t blink an eye at our response. She’s a girl. She uses the girls’ bathroom.” The day before school started, Jamie even received an in-person greeting and reassurance that the school would support Rebekah from the district superintendent.

“When Rebekah goes to school, she doesn’t have to think about being transgender,” Jamie wrote. “She doesn’t stress about bathrooms or bullying. In her words, she goes to school thinking about being herself, learning, and having fun. She’s just like any other girl.”

That’s how it should be for all students – every single student deserves to live free from discrimination, able to be themselves and focus on what’s important: Their studies, making friends, learning.

When President Trump and his administration rescinded basic guidance for public schools, underlining that Title IX required schools to respect the gender identity of every student, he stripped so many students of their ability to thrive and grow in school. The Administration instantly made each transgender students’ experience subject to the whims of their school. While Jamie is grateful that Rebekah’s school district has been supportive, she knows that for so many children, that’s not the case. Just look at the lawsuits winding their way through court – in district after district, school officials are doing the wrong thing, restricting transgender students from using the restroom, ignoring their pronouns, and making life harder for them.

“At ten years old, it’s hard for Rebekah to comprehend that the person in charge of education for the entire country doesn’t want every student to be safe and protected in school regardless of where they live,” Jamie added. “She is angry that many kids like her struggle to get through school each day.”

Recent Transgender Graduate and His Mom Speak Out on the Need to Make #EveryoneWelcome

Melissa & Aidan DeStefano • Pennsylvania

Aidan DeStefano has a message for transgender young people headed back to school this fall: “I hope you never believe anyone who tells you that you don’t belong.”

Aidan knows what it feels like to have your dignity threatened by opponents of LGBTQ equality. Last year the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against his high school, Boyertown Area High School in Pennsylvania, for respecting students’ gender identity for the purpose of restrooms and locker rooms. The lawsuit claimed that the privacy of non-transgender children was being threatened by transgender children using the same facilities.

In August 2017 a federal judge ruled against Alliance Defending Freedom, siding with the school that is doing the right thing by respecting and supporting transgender kids. Aidan and his mother, Melissa DeStefano, celebrated the victory for fairness and dignity.

In a new video, Aidan and Melissa share their story and why it’s important for all Americans to come together to make #EveryoneWelcome. The video is part of the ongoing #EveryoneWelcome campaign, which elevates the voices of Americans nationwide who support full and explicit non-discrimination protections for transgender people. Watch the video:

“Being a kid is already hard enough without politicians and lawyers personally attacking you for who you are, and it was terrible to see headline after headline about elected officials doing everything they could to discriminate against transgender people like my son,” Melissa said in the video. “I’ve been so proud to see Aidan blossom into the strong, courageous man he is today. This year after he shared his story in court during the anti-transgender lawsuit here in Boyertown, the judge told him how much he was helping people better understand what it means to be transgender.”

“I want every transgender student to stay strong and remember that thousands of people have their back,” Aidan added. “I hope non-transgender people across the country are speaking out more than ever about treating everyone with respect and dignity, no matter who they are. “

Advocating for Community Building and Youth-Led Organizing in North Carolina

Brennan Lewis • North Carolina

Brennan Lewis started up classes at UNC Chapel Hill last week in North Carolina – and they are no stranger to the back-to-school anxieties trans young people often experience.

While in high school Brennan founded QueerNC, an organization designed to connect teenagers in rural and urban areas of North Carolina, providing a safe and inclusive space online and in person. It’s become a central place for queer North Carolina youth to share ideas, discuss problems they are facing, and more.

“We’ve seen a lot of students take steps with their own initiative to fight for better individual policies with teachers and their administrators at school,” Brennan said. “It’s been a struggle, but we’re seeing a lot more success this year. I think it has had a big impact on how trans youth are able to advocate for themselves.”

Part of that success, Brennan explained, has come from the wider visibility for trans and genderqueer people across the country, including in North Carolina, which drew national headlines after the passage of the shameful, discriminatory HB2.

“I am seeing on a broader scale more and more parents and administrators and others learning what it means to be trans,” Brennan said. “I think HB2 in some ways has given a lot of different kinds of people the language with which to talk about trans people, and I think some of that language has been really harmful, but some has resulted in an effort to increase public support and impact the culture.”

Brennan’s advice for trans and genderqueer youth struggling with the back-to-school season and feelings of anxiety more generally is to stay open-minded and be willing to share your experiences, when it’s safe to do so.

“There are many, many people who want to love and support people who don’t have the knowledge to do that yet,” they said. “But over time, being really open and candid about my experience and about who I am as a genderqueer person has helped some people in my life become advocates for LGBTQ people. Me making an attempt to be vulnerable has helped them understand what I was experiencing and has encouraged them to go out and be a better ally. It’s hard to make that call if you’re feeling vulnerable. But for me, it was helpful to identify adult allies and peers who have similar experiences. And for folks who live in rural areas and don’t feel that they have that kind of support, there are so many communities online where you can connect and work on making the community a better place.”

“We need to see a lot more support going into community building,” Brennan said. “A lot of young people often don’t see the impact of legislation for a very long time – so building connections for young people to share experiences and come together is so important.” In addition to QueerNC, Brennan recommends the work of Time OUT Youth in Charlotte and youth organizations across North Carolina. “Young people are the front of the line on these issues – people in middle school and high school are so integral to making change.”

Missouri Family Works to Make Change Locally While Awaiting Much-Needed Federal Resolution Affirming Transgender Equality

Kelly • Missouri

Last year Kelly and her family were hopeful about Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, the U.S. Supreme Court case centered on dignity and equality for transgender students. But when the Trump Administration stepped in to rescind the Title IX guidance that served as the foundation for a positive ruling in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court sent the case back to lower court, putting a decision off to another year.

“With so much turmoil locally, we had great hopes that the case would settle things, once and for all,” said Kelly, who is raising a transgender child. “Sabotaged by the President, we felt under siege, with little protection, and we were exhausted.”

Kelly and her family live in Missouri – a state where lawmakers have proposed several anti-transgender bills in recent years. “We filed into the Legislature to testify among so many other amazing people – including innocent and scared children – who were forced to bear their souls in order to fight discrimination becoming legal in our state,” Kelly said. The discussions in the statehouse are often nasty, filled with anti-transgender rhetoric and distortions of fact. One Missouri Senator even ignored years of research on the importance of affirming children’s gender identity by comparing transgender kids’ stated desire to transition genders to children who play make-believe and pretend to be a dog.

The Trump administration’s assault on the transgender community has been heart-breaking for Kelly to see. “We live in an affirming community and our child socially transitioned over four years ago, so the last few years held less fear to carry – until the election,” she said. “Now, we have more reason to fear for our child’s rights, health, and safety than ever before. We have been forced to develop workarounds and escape plans, ranging from heightened privacy to crisis plans to uproot the family and move to a more trans-friendly place.”

Kelly’s child wishes to live undisclosed, “without the attention, scrutiny, judgments, and abuses that being out often bring for gender-diverse people,” she explained. Privacy is important to the family and to Kelly’s child – and anti-transgender attacks like the ones they’ve seen in Missouri and at the federal level have made it even more imperative to protect their privacy. Building a strong community and support system, however, has been a vital part of Kelly’s social life in recent years.

“There are so many beautiful gender-diverse children and youth with proud and affirming families that gain strength from connection,” she said. “We are part of a revolution, and we need to know that we are not alone. I believe there are more of us – loving and just people who will stand up for human rights – and that love and truth will prevail.”

Transgender Student Who Helped to Craft Vital Title IX Guidance Returns to School Following Its Rescission

Karen Dolan • Washington, D.C.

Just over a year ago, Karen Dolan and her daughter Grace beamed as President Barack Obama made national headlines for standing up for transgender students and issuing guidance to public schools on the best ways to respect the gender identity of all students and protect transgender children. Grace had been invited months prior by the Department of Education to provide insight and feedback on what the guidance should cover, drawing on her experience as a young transgender girl.

This February, Karen and Grace cringed as the very same guidance was rescinded by President Trump, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Education.

“It was very empowering and very exciting for kids to be able to have that recognition of their human rights,” Karen Dolan said of the Obama Administration guidance. “And so it was equally devastating when Trump and Sessions and DeVos shredded that to pieces. It was a blow not just to trans students, but also a terrible blow to all children – because it was a blow to human rights.”

The Dolans live in Washington, D.C., and just two weeks ago Grace started on her senior year. While she had faced challenging situations and confrontations with school administrators at a previous school, Grace has had a positive experience in DC Public Schools, which has a robust and gender-inclusive policy.  

“There was never any question about bathroom access and pronouns and names,” Karen said. “Where we feel badly though is that people are at the mercy of their zip code. If you don’t live in states with strong protections, then what happens to you? That’s the really sad piece of this. So many people can’t just pick up and move somewhere else – they have jobs and communities and homes. That’s not a solution. When your human rights are being violated, you shouldn’t be required to leave your community – that’s not what our Constitution stands for. It’s fundamentally discriminatory.”

Karen underlined that despite the Trump Administration’s decision to leave transgender students vulnerable and revoke basic guidelines for public schools, transgender people remain protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. There’s a growing legal consensus – with many federal judges, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, declaring that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, also prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.

“I would encourage trans people and parents of trans kids to reach out if they are facing discrimination,” Karen said. “There are a number of avenues out there to help – including the Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Gender Spectrum, GLSEN, the ACLU, and others. Discrimination can’t be allowed to stand just because one administration says it’s OK to discriminate.”

Following Contentious Special Session, Mom of Transgender Child in Texas Keeps Up the Fight Forward

Jennifer Campisi • Texas

Jennifer Campisi and her husband are preparing to send their two kids back to school after a summer marked by a tough legislative session, where they saw the dignity of their 10-year-old son, who is transgender, under fire from lawmakers.

Thankfully, the Special Session in Texas ended without an anti-transgender bill becoming law, and Jennifer is relieved. But while she is glad the state does not have an explicitly anti-transgender law on the books, the fact remains that LGBTQ Texans are not explicitly protected from discrimination under state law.

Jennifer said her son’s school has been largely supportive of her son, but he is still unable to use the boys’ restroom while in school. Her son is now in fifth grade, but he transitioned shortly after kindergarten.

“He has known his whole life that he’s a boy,” Jennifer said. “He’s always been transgender, and he’s always known he’s a boy.”

Her son has had to use the nurse’s single-occupancy private restroom for most of his schooling, but last year he began using the teacher’s single-occupancy restroom. “He’d rather use the boys’ room because he uses the boys’ room everywhere else,” Jennifer said. During sporting events, while participating in student clubs, and anywhere else, he uses the boys’ restroom without issue. “When people meet him, they don’t want him using the girls’ bathroom – because they doesn’t make any sense. He’s a boy.”

A few weeks ago Jennifer’s son asked her, “Am I going to have to use the teacher’s bathroom again this year?” She sighed and nodded, then asked why he didn’t like using the teacher’s bathroom. He explained that sometimes kids see him going into that room and it prompts a wave of discussion: “Did that kid just go into the teacher’s bathroom?”

“I’ve given him some tools on what to say and how to answer, but he shouldn’t even have to worry about this,” Jennifer said. “It makes him feel like something is wrong with him. Everyone should be able to go in, do their business, and leave. It shouldn’t be such an ordeal.”

Beyond that, using a separate bathroom often “outs” transgender kids, prompting questions about why they often go to the nurse or why they have to use a separate restroom. “Suddenly you have to answer all of these questions.”

Jennifer explained that it’s frustrating seeing public conversation about her child’s life reduced to where he goes to the bathroom. “It’s unfortunate – but of course, we do have to talk about it. That’s what people are focused on. That’s explicitly what anti-transgender legislation is targeting right now. I am excited for the day that people get to know these kids and adults and see that they’re just like any other kid. We don’t even really think about the fact that our son is transgender – he’s just our son.”

When it gets challenging and burdensome to carry on the fight for transgender equality, Jennifer and her family focus on the positive.

“We try to focus on all of the support that we do have,” she said. “There’s so much support out there. There are so many people who are trying to make things better. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle, but if we keep working, it’s going to get better.”

Georgia Tech Director Says LGBTQ-Inclusion Critical for Business Recruitment

Aby Parsons • Georgia

Aby Parsons, Director of the LGBTQIA Resource Center at Georgia Tech, describes her graduating students as hungry, competitive, and eager to go where the good jobs are. But she says that, increasingly, they’re looking at company culture and LGBTQ inclusion when making career decisions.

As students file back to class for the 2017-2018 school year, she knows the emphasis on LGBTQ inclusion will only become stronger.

“Our students are becoming more and more concerned about what kind of workplace they’re going to enter when they graduate,” Aby says. “And I think our students are saying if I’m going to stick around with a company, it has to be inclusive, it has to have supportive policies, but more than that it has to have a visible culture or a welcoming culture.”

Companies that lack a culture that accepts and policies that support LGBTQ staff members will have a hard time competing to recruit top talent and an even harder time retaining that top talent as Georgia Tech graduates increasingly seek careers with companies that are inclusive.

That’s why many businesses are prioritizing LGBTQ-inclusion—including many of the top 20 companies to which Georgia Tech serves as a feeder school, such as Accenture, AT&T, Deloitte, Google, Home Depot, IBM, Microsoft, and PWC (all of which are members of Georgia Prospers, the business coalition for a prosperous Georgia where business is open to everyone). Of Fortune 500 companies nationwide, 82% have LGBTQ non-discrimination policies on the books.

These businesses know that LGBTQ-inclusion isn’t just right—it’s good for the bottom line. But in a state like Georgia, where Aby lives, leading companies can do everything right to make the workplace welcoming to all employees (regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity), and still the fact remains: The state lacks LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination laws, including laws protecting transgender students.

For transgender Georgians, that means that even if they’re protected explicitly from discrimination at work, they’re vulnerable to discrimination when they leave the office. Georgia Unites Against Discrimination is working to increase support for non-discrimination and encourage lawmakers in the state to see that now is the time for comprehensive protections.

Learn more from Georgia Unites Against Discrimination.

Mom in Massachusetts Heartened by Community Support for Her Transgender Son

Hinda Swartz

In the mid-2000s, Hinda gave birth to her child Mark, now 11. She says from the very beginning, even though he was assigned female at birth, he began to almost immediately display signs and behaviors that indicated he felt differently.

“It got to the point when he was two years old that he refused to wear anything with the color pink, or anything that resembled traditionally feminine clothing. Because I felt I had an idea of what was going on, it was easier at that point to just not fight him.”

From then on, Mark began identifying and expressing himself as a boy.

One thing that has pleasantly surprised Hinda and her family is the level of support they have seen from their community and school system.

“Our neighborhood area, which is a bit of an enclave of conservatism in blue Massachusetts, has been surprisingly welcoming, and Mark’s school has been fantastic. They even had a little party when his name change became official and he changed his pronouns. I’m so proud of my community.”

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