Photo of the Progress Pride Flag which features the colors black, brown, turquoise, pink, and white in an arrow shape to the traditional stripped rainbow flag to better represent the diversity of the LGBTQ community.



More and more young people in the U.S. are identifying as trans or non-binary. The Williams Institute estimates that about 1.6% of youth in the U.S. between the ages of 13 and 17—more than 1.6 million young people in total—identify as trans. There are likely to be at least a handful of trans or non-binary students at just about every school in the country. This does not mean, however, that trans or non-binary students are out at school, nor does it mean trans and non-binary identities, experiences, and narratives are well-represented into school communities.

Trans and non-binary students also are under unprecedented legislative and policy attacks. In 2018, fewer than 20 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in state legislatures across the country. More than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in 2023, according to a recent report by the Human Rights Campaign.

These bills would make it difficult or impossible for trans people to change their names, access gender-
affirming medical care, participate in sports as their authentic selves, and more. In some cases, teachers would even be required to jeopardize student safety by outing LGBTQ+ students.

With all that in mind—and based on our combined decades of experience as educators and advocates for trans rights—we propose four core principles to guide adults in supporting trans and non-binary students. While this framing is focused specifically on the needs of trans and non-binary students, we hope these principles will be useful for anyone working with minority or underresourced student communities.

1. Educate

Perhaps the most foundational thing you can do to support trans and non-binary students is to educate the adults who work with them. It is critical to provide teachers, administrators, and school staff with the knowledge and tools they need to support these students, and to ensure that education is ongoing and reflects the needs of your community.

Proactively educating school staff is particularly important because, right now, many educators only think about the needs of trans and
non-binary students when faced with the first out trans or non-binary student in their class. This often results in an unfair expectation that those trans students take the lead on educating not only their classmates but their teachers as well.

Fortunately, there are many resources for individual, group, and community education. Some, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Inclusivity in Schools self-assessment or the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Gender Triangle Education Guide are free and available online. Others, like the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools, have a mix of free online resources and paid virtual and in-person professional development opportunities.

2. Affirm

The work of affirming students can be divided into two categories: Affirming policies and affirming practices. The former—things like school handbooks and district policies, as well as state and federal laws and guidelines—create a foundation for advocacy and can cover topics including nondiscrimination policies, privacy and confidentiality, dress code, gym class, and more. If this sounds useful, GLSEN and the National Center for Transgender Equality put out a great model policy to get you started.

Affirming practices, then, are where the rubber meets the road. Simply having policies on the books is not enough if community members and staff aren’t aware of them or don’t follow them. Likewise, educators should make it clear that they support all their students—including trans and non-binary students—even if local or state policies aren’t there yet.

3. Include

If “affirm” is about supporting individual transgender and non-binary students, “include” is about including transgender and non-binary identity and representation across an entire education community—in its culture, values, and how that community represents itself both internally and externally.

In many school communities, however, there is a distinct lack of both “mirrors” and “windows” around transgender and non-binary identity. That is, transgender and non-binary youth don’t find their identities or experiences represented in existing curricula or school culture, and their cisgender peers (students who are not trans or non-binary) aren’t learning about trans and non-binary identities and experiences—and the importance of respecting those identities—either.

This is especially true for intersecting and overlapping minority or marginalized identities and life experiences, such as transgender and non-binary students of color, those with physical disabilities, or those who are neurodivergent.

4. Disrupt

Unfortunately, education communities sometimes include people who are uncomfortable discussing trans identity, don’t prioritize supporting trans students, and may even be actively seeking to harm trans people. Whether it’s one individual student making inappropriate jokes or picking on another student, a parent objecting to classroom discussions about LGBTQ+ identity, or an elected official or other policymaker attempting to pass laws or policies that harm trans students, we can always disrupt harm and attempt to steer things back toward education, affirmation, and inclusion.

Vanessa Ford ( was a founding member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council. Rebecca Kling ( served as the community storytelling advocate and director of education programming at the National Center for Transgender Rights. Their new book, The Advocate Educator’s Handbook: Creating Schools Where Transgender and Non-Binary Students Thrive (Jossey-Bass, 2024), can be ordered at


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