When I was in fifth grade, I first heard the term nonbinary from my mother, who was telling me a story about one of her nonbinary co-workers. I thought, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I would change my name and go by they/them pronouns. I’m definitely a girl, though.” 

It wasn’t until four years later that I realized she/her pronouns and “girl” didn’t feel right for me, and that they never had. I am transgender, meaning that I don’t identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. I am nonbinary, meaning that I am neither a boy or a girl.

Student Voices: How can schools do a better job of serving students? We’re giving these youth their say

After learning what it means to be nonbinary and genderqueer (an identity that can be similar to nonbinary or trans, or can be used to describe gender identities that don’t fit societal standards), I began to realize how uncomfortable I was playing the role of a girl. It didn’t fit me. In ninth grade, I started using they/them pronouns. It surprised me how happy this made me, but I was not prepared for how much misgendering (using incorrect pronouns or an incorrectly gendered term) suddenly hurt. 

Nationally, there are growing threats to the safety of people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer, with bills censoring discussions about LGBTQ topics, transgender sports bans, and gender-affirming care bans across the country. Although we are not legally affected by many of these threats here in Washington, the mental and emotional toll of these actions is very real. 

On March 11, my school participated in a nationwide walkout protesting these bills and pieces of anti-trans legislation. Students spoke out about their anger, disgust, and fear that these bills exist. Thousands of trans people, especially trans youth, are being hurt and will continue to be hurt because of these bills. Even in places without explicitly anti-trans legislation, these bills impact our community and our safety.


By the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s estimate, roughly one in thirty of Washington’s students is trans. While there are policies and guidelines at the state and school district levels giving students the rights to use facilities and pronouns that fit their gender identity, that doesn’t always translate into a gender-affirming experience at school. Most, if not all, trans students must navigate gendered bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports, as well as dealing with bullying and misgendering. 

I and many other trans kids get misgendered by students and teachers who read our names off the roster and assume our pronouns by our appearance. I’ve also found myself explaining the basics of how to respect trans and nonbinary people to my peers and to teachers. While it can feel good to explain something so important to me, it is also taxing and exhausting. When these kinds of microaggressions occur, often there is no change or end to these disrespects, even after they’re called out repeatedly. If genderqueer students are to feel safe at school, there needs to be change.

Most transphobia stems from a lack of understanding of what it means to be trans or genderqueer. Providing comprehensive education on gender identity to all students can help to change that. The education I received on gender identity and nonbinary identities consisted of various pages of an informational packet full of outdated terms and misinformation handed to us by our health teacher. Lessons about being transgender are usually directed toward cisgender (or cis; identifying with the gender one was assigned at birth) students, and only encompass binary identities (boy and girl). They offer a passive awareness of trans people’s existence, but in most cases, no one ever talks to us directly about our own gender identities or defines gender identity.

Some adults say gender identity conversations are confusing for children, but trans kids often understand more about their gender than the adults in their life do. It only causes children more harm when adults, including parents and teachers, avoid the subject and create an environment where kids are forced to hide who they are. Schools are meant to be educational environments where students learn, among other things, who they are. So why shouldn’t schools actively encourage and support students in learning about the identities of themselves and others?

Unfortunately, this has not been the experience that I or most other trans and genderqueer students have had. Everything I’ve learned about what it means to be trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer, I’ve learned from my friends, the internet, or social media. I don’t expect schools to teach students all the ins and outs of every single gender identity, but all students should understand gender as a spectrum and not a binary, and have the basic skills needed to respect someone’s identity.

With the amount of transphobia, hate, and misinformation in the media and online, it is important for both cis and trans students to receive clear, science-based education in schools on gender and genderqueer identities. Students can and should be encouraged to explore their own gender identities. Even for people who end up identifying as cis, being in touch with an important aspect of their identity is vital and healthy.


Schools need to listen to trans and nonbinary students. We know better than anyone what challenges we face and how those could be addressed. Gender and sexuality alliances, or gay/straight alliances (GSAs) and similar clubs and student-led organizations exist in many schools to make them better for LGBTQ students. 

The Pride Club at my school, Nathan Hale High School, is an amazing community and space for people like me to just exist as we are. We have shared knowledge, experiences, and jokes that most cis and straight people wouldn’t understand, and for me, Pride Club is where I can share those. I don’t worry about being judged for sharing my pronouns or correcting others when they misgender me. I can share a story or ask for advice that has to do with my identity as a queer and nonbinary person, and someone I trust will understand and be there for me. Schools need to protect these spaces because the freedom and comfort they provide for trans students are what every school should aspire to.

About the artist: Cecilia Stewart is a queer youth student from Seattle. They enjoy drawing and doodling and not doing their homework. You can follow their art account on Instagram: @c0rvidart