Back to School: Supporting Trans Students When There’s a Bully in the White House

by Rony Castellanos and Harper Jean Tobin

This is the first in a series of back to school articles. Be sure to follow us to be informed when new editions are published, and to read more pieces about trans students and those who want to support them!

Image credit: Jason Arrol, NCTE

Going back to school can be exciting for students. It’s a time to reunite with friends, build relationships with teachers, and create memories to last a lifetime. Education is extremely important in shaping an individual’s perspective of the world, and its power is priceless. But what happens when going back to school means facing bullies — especially if one of them is your principal, or even the President of the United States?

Unfortunately, under the Trump administration, this is the reality for many students and families. The withdrawal of guidelines to protect transgender students was followed by a months-long legislative battle in Texas, where lawmakers sought to pass anti-trans “bathroom ban” legislation. When the President and a state governor — among other politicians — tell the world that there is something wrong with being who we are, it’s no wonder that parents, families and trans students are experiencing fear.

Image source: Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that of respondents who were out or perceived as trans during the K-12 school years, 77 percent experienced some form of mistreatment, including 54 percent who were verbally harassed and 24 percent who were physically attacked.

Yet, even as more courts rule in favor of transgender students, the Department of Education continues to run away from its responsibility to protect them. This week, NCTE joined the Trevor Project in filing a Freedom of Information Act request to discover what the administration is doing with LGBTQ students’ complaints of bullying and discrimination.

In July, NCTE joined LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault to meet with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to urge against further rollbacks of critical guidelines for schools on preventing and responding to sexual assault, and encouraged her to tour the country to meet with student survivors. During this meeting, current and former students shared personal stories of campus sexual violence and emphasized the critical role of Title IX guidelines issued in 2011 and 2014, which ensures survivors are treated fairly by their schools. In the U.S. Transgender Survey, NCTE found about 47 percent of transgender adults have experienced sexual assault at some point in their lives.

NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling speaks at a rally opposing the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, February 7, 2017.

As a community, we must support and advocate for the safety, well-being and mental health of our transgender students.

On July 26, President Donald Trump tweeted that the “United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals” to serve in the US military because the military “cannot be burdened with tremendous medical costs and disruption” supposedly caused by trans service members. These statements, though false, are dangerous to the mental health, self-esteem, and identity of all transgender people, including transgender students.

As a recent Education Week article noted, “The threat of bans to entire career sectors could also hurt transgender students’ academic performance more generally.” It has the potential to put trans people’s safety at risk. To date, there have been 20 transgender or gender nonconforming people killed in 2017. President Trump’s tweets about transgender people reinforce bigotry, just as so many of his other recent statements reinforce racism, xenophobia, and the criminalization of communities. This is why it is important that we continue to advocate for transgender students.

Trans college student Zeam Porter speaks in support of Minnesota’s “toolkit” for supporting trans students. Photo credit: Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune

Here’s the good news: schools around the country support transgender students. Minnesota recently joined nearly 20 other states by providing statewide guidelines to help schools and educators better support transgender students. Regardless of what the Trump Administration might say or tweet, Title IX and the Constitution still protect transgender students, and students and their families can stand up to discrimination, harassment and abuse.

Through our work together, we can continue to be advocates and help transgender students to have safe spaces in schools that allow them to succeed physically, mentally and psychologically. Collectively, we can continue to push politicians, lawmakers and school boards to make schools safe and inclusive spaces for our youth.

Take action! Here’s what you can do:

  • Send a message to Secretary DeVos, urging her to support transgender students and student survivors of sexual violence.
  • Visit NCTE’s School Action Center to find more information about protections and the rights of transgender students in schools in the US.
  • Read NCTE’s Know Your Rights guide, and create dialogue with friends, family, and community members to continue to reinforce the support for transgender students in schools.
  • Use NCTE’s Share Your Story page to share your experiences of being a transgender person in school.
  • Call a support hotline if you, or someone you know, needs support at any time.

Rony Castellanos is an intern at NCTE.
Harper Jean Tobin is Director of Policy at NCTE.


Sign up to receive NCTE’s emails, and follow NCTE on Twitter, Facebook, and Medium for the latest news on issues affecting the transgender community. Visit transequality.org for in-depth resources and information on what you can do to support the transgender people in your life.