Grace, a transgender student living in Maryland, remembers every detail about the day she transitioned at school. She remembers the outfit she wore — burgundy top, black leggings sprinkled with blue roses, black pleather combat boots, and a wig with curls that bounced when she walked. Most of the kids on the bus and at school stared — some pointed and laughed. But when her friend Aniya saw her coming, she simply turned to greet her, smiled, and walked with her onto the bus. Looking back, Grace says that Aniya’s gesture gave her courage. She realized something that day — that all the other kids had was the ability to point and laugh. “Once I understood that,” she says “and found more champions like Aniya, I was able to start fighting bigger things than whispers. After that day, I felt empowered and free.”
But that doesn’t mean it was always easy. At Grace’s middle school, there were no policies in place for supporting transgender students. The teachers weren’t educated to know how to support trans students, and make them feel safe. When it was time for Grace to go to high school, she and her mom decided it was important to find a school that had designed and implemented inclusive guidelines for the entire school district.
When Grace arrived at her new high school, the administration instantly accepted for who she was; there was never a question of which bathroom she would use, or how she would be addressed.
“I was allowed to just exist as who I was, which completely changed my high school experience. I was able to be more focused on my friends. I was happier. It wasn’t all immediate, but just being in an accepting environment where I knew I had the support of my teachers and administrators just made me feel like I could focus on what I needed to.”
For Grace, a school that has guidelines for supporting transgender students becomes a safer, more compassionate place. Teachers are equipped with the training to know how to support and protect their students. Students know that they can rely on all of their teachers if they’re ever hurt or bullied.
“I never worried whether my teachers would know how to react when I was bullied in school. It was an environment where everyone was educated, where everyone knew the protocol, where I had guided support from all teachers and administrators. I was able to act more free around others because of it.”