Pre-Order Transgender Justice in Schools

Edited by Linda Christensen and Ty Marshall

Available in:

Paperback: $29.95

Publication Date: August 1, 2024

ISBN: 978-0-942961-46-1

Transgender Justice in Schools provides inspirational stories from trans students and educators and resources for teachers, students, and parents seeking to build communities where everyone flourishes. This book will educate, challenge, inspire  — and save lives.

“This book’s relevance is undeniable in light of the ongoing assaults on trans youth; it serves as a vital guide toward education justice. Each author’s narrative is steeped in love and compassion, offering invaluable resources for LGBTQ youth to not only find representation in classrooms but also for their peers to see their humanity. It transcends fear and rejection, presenting queerness as a liberating space for all. Fueled by courage and love, it provides the support LGBTQ youth require in these challenging times.”

Bettina L. Love,  William F. Russell Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University; author, Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal

“As beautifully articulated as it is urgently needed, Transgender Justice in Schools is an absolute must read. Compassionate, welcoming, and uncompromising, Linda Christensen and Ty Marshall’s collection offers clear-eyed guidance for a freer, better world. With voices of students and educators from myriad backgrounds, every teacher will benefit from the ideas in this book.”

Antero Garcia, Associate professor at Stanford University and president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English

Transgender Justice in Schools stands as a critical and urgent response to threats faced by our transgender and nonbinary youth. This book is a creative and powerful call to action, advocating for a compassionate and dignity-affirming educational design that celebrates every student’s full being. Through personal narratives, case studies, and practical strategies, educators, parents, and students will find themselves equipped with the tools to imagine and organize toward new possible worlds that are free of the violences of transphobia, toward the magic of queer futurity.”

– José R. Lizárraga, Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences and Human Development, and Affiliate in LGBTQ Studies and Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder

This book brings queer and trans educators’ voices to the center of the conversation about gender and sexuality in schools. It arrives right on time.”

– Harper B. Keenan, Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality in Education at the University of British Columbia

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER ONE: A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

Becoming Unapologetically Trans
Ty Marshall

On Behalf of Their Name
Mykhiel Deych

Teaching Them into Existence
Mykhiel Deych

How We Failed Nigel Shelby
Maximillian Matthews

Can a 4-Year-Old Know Her Gender Identity? Yes.
Esperanza Anderson

CHAPTER TWO: TEACHING TRANS CURRICULUM

Queering Black History and Getting Free
Dominique Hazzard

Expanding Intersectional Queer History in the Elementary Grades
Laura Shelton

Diversity Is What Makes It Interesting to Study Living Things
Sam Long

What Is a Family?
Sam Long

What Makes a Baby, Really?
Lewis Steller

Nurturing a Rainbow of Resistance to Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws
Linda Christensen

CHAPTER THREE: TRANS STUDENTS SPEAK OUT

“You May Just Be Their Only Trusted Adult”

Stone (they, he, xe), 10th grade, Philadelphia

Spencer (he/him), 9th grade, Portland, Oregon

Kat (he/they), 12th grade, Portland, Oregon

Tonantzin (they/them), 18, Portland, Oregon

Anonymous (they them), 7th grade, Boston, Massachusetts

Carter (he/him), 8th grade, Portland, Oregon

Isa (he/they), 11th grade, Philadelphia

Chris (he/him), 10th grade, Portland, Oregon

Nic (he/they), 10th grade, Portland, Oregon

Sam (they/them), 7th grade, Boston, Massachusetts

Will (he/him), 11th grade, Portland, Oregon

Matilda (they/them), 7th grade, Boston, Massachusetts

Finn (she/her), 9th grade, Georgia

Levi (he/him), 14, Portland, Oregon

CHAPTER FOUR: FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT TO TEACH

Big Reactions, Small Steps
Nettie Harrington Pangallo

The Day of Silence
Anna McMaken-Marsh

We Answer Hate with Solidarity: An Interview with Elementary School Counselor Madi Bourdon
Ty Marshall

Existing Outside of the Binary in the Classroom
Julianna Iacovelli

Fighting for LGBTQ+ Youth and Families: An Interview with Melissa Bollow Tempel
Jody Sokolower

CHAPTER FIVE: RESOURCES

The Children Are Seen: Trans Authors and Characters in Children’s Literature
Lora Lyn Worden

Acknowledgments

Index

Officials across the country — from governors to legislators to school superintendents — have marshaled anti-LGBTQ+ laws banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth, requiring or allowing the misgendering of trans students in schools, instituting “bathroom bills” that discriminate against trans youth, censoring teachers from teaching LGBTQ+ or critical race theory curriculum, and banning books by and about LGBTQ+ and BIPOC people, constructing an atmosphere of fear and intolerance in schools. We crafted Transgender Justice in Schools as an act of solidarity to uplift the work of students, teachers, parents, and communities who refuse to be silenced by this legislative war against trans kids.

In their article, “Teaching Them into Existence,” Mykhiel Deych wrote, “Teaching isn’t supposed to include life-or-death consequences, but it does. When it comes to LGBTQ+ students, we fail to hold space for their existence. Heterocentric, cisnormative curriculum writes out the existence of LGBTQ+ lives. Campaigns such as Dan Savage’s ‘It Gets Better’ go viral precisely because we aren’t actually reassuring youth that their existence is acceptable, real, normal. We need an ‘It Gets Better’ campaign because high school is awful for LGBTQ kids, high school is fatal.”

Nex Benedict, a nonbinary 10th grader and member of the Choctaw Nation, died after a fight in the high school bathroom that Oklahoma lawmakers forced them to use. Benedict’s death underscores the life-or-death consequences for nonbinary students when lawmakers play politics with their lives. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed more than 50 anti-gay bills, like the ones requiring students to use bathrooms that match their sex assigned at birth, banning the use of nonbinary gender markers on IDs, restricting gender-affirming care, and banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports. As Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBTQ advocacy group, noted, “Whether Nex died as a direct result of injuries sustained in the brutal hate-motivated attack at school or not, Nex’s death is a result of being the target of physical and emotional harm because of who Nex was.”

Lawmakers have targeted teachers as well. School districts across the country are firing teachers, like Melissa Tempel, for standing up against the anti-gay legislation. For every teacher fired or reprimanded or mandated to exclude LGBTQ+ studies or take down the rainbow on their classroom wall, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, who are too scared or feel too unprepared to teach about LGBTQ+ issues. We created this book to bridge the gap between where we are as educators and where we need to be.

In an interview with Ali Velshi on MSNBC’s Velshi Banned Book Club, Alex Gino, author of the trans book, Melissa (formerly published as George), spoke about the need for schools to step up:

School is the place where [students] can get information, where they can figure out who they are and who other people are. If we don’t do that, what you end up with is adults who are either hurt and scarred or they don’t know how to interact with a trans person. That’s where you get epidemic levels of violence against trans people, particularly trans women of color. This attempt to protect children is actually putting people at risk. Information saves lives and books save lives.

Every teacher, administrator, counselor, college professor, school board member, or parent has a moral obligation to figure out how to use their knowledge and privilege to increase support for trans students and teachers.

CHAPTER 1: IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

We named the first chapter of Transgender Justice in Schools “It’s a Matter of Life and Death” — because it is. In this chapter, trans teachers, writers, and the parent of a trans child discuss the fear, danger, and loneliness trans people experience in schools. Maximillian Matthews, a writer from Durham, North Carolina, wrote about trans students’ suicides in their article “How We Failed Nigel Shelby and Allowed the Abuse He Endured.” Matthews underscores how curricular silence functions to isolate trans students, especially trans students of color, which can lead to suicide.

I longed to read about someone who was attracted to men like I was. I longed to see someone who rejected the labels assigned to them as I struggled to do. There was a time when all I wanted was a confirmation I was not alone in my queerness.

Despite the few examples that existed as I grew up in the ’90s, the isolation I felt led me to consider suicide. In my mind, death was better than loneliness. Tragically, I was already battling a system that determined conservatism was better than queerness, normalcy better than diversity, conformity better than nonconformity, and whiteness better than Blackness. This was the system that decided what I did and did not see, what received approval and what did not, and whose life had value and whose did not. It was a system constructed to intentionally exclude, oppress, marginalize, and eradicate people like me and Nigel Shelby.

In Transgender Justice in Schools, we want to illuminate the dire social emergency that both Deych and Matthews write about and the life and death consequences for the trans and BIPOC communities. We also want to acknowledge the need to move beyond subjects of fear and rejection and demonstrate the existence of queer joy as Ty Marshall wrote in their piece “Becoming Unapologetically Trans”:

I want to show students what steady self-love in the face of fear looks like, because we will all face it. I want to teach my students that being trans means continuing to live into our joy — and express our full selves despite backlash. The room I make for myself cracks at the rigidity and makes room for others — by surviving we protect each other from the resurgence of transphobia. My lesson in personhood is that we cannot turn on ourselves when the world is already turning on us. . . . A teacher in their full humanity and power can recognize the same in their students, and demand better from the education system that dehumanizes all of us.

In fact, a world filled with “steady self-love” should be far easier to create than the one where legislators write laws that encourage others to bully children, like Nex Benedict, who want nothing more than a chance to live in the “full humanity” Ty Marshall describes.

CHAPTER 2: TEACHING TRANS CURRICULUM

We understand that many teachers don’t know where to begin when teaching LGBTQ+ curriculum because few schools or universities have modeled the inclusion of intersectional queer studies. In “Teaching Them into Existence,” Mykhiel Deych asked us the questions that we all need to figure out:

How many LGBTQ authors do you teach about? How often is the intersection and difference of sexuality and gender addressed in your Socratic seminars? Do you discuss transgender history in U.S. history? Do you reveal authors’ struggles with sexuality and how these relate to their art? Has gay culture ever been given the credit it deserves for spurring numerous fashion, music, and art trends? No, and me neither. As an out trans and gay teacher I can’t always fend off the fear of a parental uprising about my “gay agenda.” This sort of bravery hasn’t yet materialized in my classroom, but I’m working on it.

In Chapter 2, “Teaching Trans Curriculum,” teachers across content areas and grade levels attempt to answer Deych’s questions by demonstrating theoretical positions, units, and strategies to pave the way for educators looking for how to build a more inclusive curriculum.

In “Queering Black History and Getting Free,” Dominique Hazzard challenges teachers to rethink the way history is written and who is represented. “I am a queer Black woman. By this I mean that my sexuality exists outside the margins, between the approved boundaries, beyond the limits of most imaginations. A queer thing is a thing that existing words cannot yet adequately describe, a thing that our language and our boxes have not yet evolved to capture. So, what does queering something mean? To me it means turning the thing on its head: questioning its assumed narratives, reworking its categories, and upending its status quo. Let’s queer Black history.” Hazzard’s article is an invitation to turn our work on its head, to question our old narratives and ways of teaching.

In the same chapter, Sam Long whose article “Diversity Is What Makes It Interesting to Study Living Things” demonstrates how he has upended the status quo in his high school biology class by discussing gender diversity, disrupting students’ assumptions about the complexities of gender. “By talking about gender diversity in our classrooms, we can engage minds, de-pathologize difference, cultivate empathy, and support academic rigor for all.” Long rejects the notion that teachers lack the time to teach about gender diversity: “The biology classroom has more than enough room to include and celebrate all genders. Like most teachers, I feel the pressure to get through my curriculum and prepare for standardized tests. But when I teach about the complexities of gender, I generate authentic student engagement that drives learning throughout the year.”

Queering curriculum is not just a favor teachers do for LGBTQ+ students. A queer curriculum offers a fuller, more comprehensive curriculum for all students. As students in Linda Christensen’s lesson on anti-gay laws noted, “Part of the importance of [Melissa] is getting a trans person’s perspective about what they go through, what they are sometimes forced to hide about themselves. If you don’t have that perspective, non-trans students get sheltered from trans people’s lives. If you don’t understand something, it makes it hard for you to appreciate someone else’s struggle. We need these stories that are important for trans kids to have, but for non-trans kids too.”

CHAPTER 3: TRANS STUDENTS SPEAK OUT

In the third chapter, “Trans Students Speak Out,” we connected with trans students to share their insights about schools. We asked them two questions: What actions have teachers/schools taken to make you feel supported and welcome — in the classroom, the curriculum, the school? And: What other changes do teachers/ schools need to make for trans students/teachers to feel supported and welcome — in the classroom, the curriculum, the school?

Although most student responses came from schools, districts, and states that offer some protection, like GSAs and gender-neutral bathrooms — even laws mandating LGBTQ+ curriculum — students still struggle. Bullying continues, especially for trans students. The wise words of the students we interviewed speak of the many ways educators and systems need to do better, but they also point us in the direction of change. None of these students had to endure the anti-LGBTQ+ laws that Nex Benedict encountered in Oklahoma or that students face in other states like Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, or West Virginia.

While many students praised their schools and teachers for sorting out their names and pronouns and making them feel seen and safe in schools, others reported the difficulty of getting teachers to simply use their preferred names and pronouns:

As a trans person, just the act of seeing or hearing my deadname is enough to make me upset. And I know this is a common feeling within the community. Many students do not have a safe place in their lives in which they have the luxury to change a given name. It’s a part of ourselves we have grown out of, and hearing it is an act of disrespect to our identity. In class, specifically when there are substitute teachers, I get extreme anxiety knowing that my deadname will be read aloud during attendance. The act of having to tell the substitute the specific situation and why, is incredibly scary for a student who does not feel comfortable with the person they are sharing it with. This is causing students to out themselves in situations they may not be comfortable with, and often in front of all their peers.

Most students could not rustle up many — or any — examples of LGBTQ+ curriculum in their schools. A student from Philadelphia wrote, “Since coming out as nonbinary, I haven’t really felt seen in most of my classes, and I even had to struggle through a class in which a teacher constantly mocked trans women and had us debate whether trans women should be allowed in women’s sports (terrifyingly, most of the class said they shouldn’t be allowed).”

However, that same student, now enrolled in a Queer History class, wrote things are better this year. Their shout-out to their English teacher provides insights for how the changes educators make matter: “I also appreciate that my English teacher, after learning that I am nonbinary, saw how it related to our topics that we are learning about in the class and pointed out how gender fluidity and being trans break the constraints of expectations and stereotypes (something we were studying earlier in the year). I do wish that more teachers would bring queerness and queer topics into their lessons, like if standard history classes could also mention queer history.” A number of students pointed out that LGBTQ+ students should not be called on to address or answer questions about their identities in class.

Students also found acceptance and joy in school. As a student from Massachusetts wrote, “Luckily 6th grade opened up a new world of queerness. I connected with so many gay and queer people and met a couple nonbinary people, who helped me discover that that’s who I felt I was. They had this thing called GSA that was all about the LGBTQIAP+ community and I no longer felt alone.”

CHAPTER 4: FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT TO TEACH

In A Trans History: Time Marches Forward and So Do We, a beautiful documentary by Chase Strangio and Zackary Drucker about trans history, narrator Laverne Cox says, “Try as they might, these lawmakers can’t erase us. Our rights will be hard-won, but we are winning. Following in the footsteps of Flawless, Major, Sylvia, Marsha, we fight back the way they did. We take care of each other. We tell our stories. And we demand justice. Our community is resilient, and our history of resistance runs deep. Resistance is our birthright, the gift passed from our elders.”

The fourth chapter of Transgender Justice in Schools highlights the stories of educators who follow in the footsteps of the trans elders this documentary celebrates. Melissa Tempel spoke out in the media about her district’s discriminatory practices; Julianna Iacovelli decided to be open and out in school. “It allows me to be some form of representation and to show that we are here in every community. . . . Being nonbinary in the classroom is not just a struggle, it’s a superpower and I wanted the school I chose to support that.”

In “Big Reactions to Small Steps: One Teacher’s Story About Using Inclusive Children’s Literature,” Nettie Harrington Pangallo tells the story of answering a 2nd-grade student’s question “What does gay mean?” in a rural community in central Virginia. “[M]y first thought was that my administration would expect me not to answer the question and refer the child to their parents. I also knew that this was why it was important to address it, particularly when the student revealed that another student had been calling children gay at recess. Avoiding the question would send a strong message to my students. I decided to address it.” When parents objected to her lessons, Pangallo stood strong, gathering support from teachers and community members as well as from national organizations. She wrote:

[W]e can push back on policies, prejudice, and “remaining neutral.” By engaging in one-on-one conversations in our schools and partnering with local and national social justice organizations, we can work toward a curriculum that honors children’s natural curiosity and the healthy expression of diversity within our communities. Engaging students in conversation through inclusive literature is a small, but important step.

We produced this book as an act of defiance. While lawmakers attempt to delete queer people from the curriculum and the libraries, from health care and bathrooms, we resist. We refuse to accept their unjust laws. And we encourage others to refuse as well. We must protect our students who come out and take up space and demand their chosen names be spoken with the reverence due their rebirth. We must gather to fight alongside educators, parents and community members who build safe and welcoming harbors within educational spaces. As Rethinking Schools editors wrote, “Every action we take in schools to welcome those who have been traditionally marginalized reminds us that we are doing this work for all of us, helping all of us become better human beings.