Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Youth Leaders

An adult ally from Summit County reached out to us looking for ways to support trans youth leaders. Particularly, she needed and was having difficulty finding a policy on how to provide overnight sleeping and bathroom arrangements for transgender students. Typically, she said, they used a camp with clearly marked “boys” and “girls” bathrooms and dorms and were able to house several trans students in their own dorm. 

To learn more about how adult allies can support students who identify as trans or non-binary during overnight activities, we reached out to our Regional Learning Collaborative (RLC) leaders for advice. As experts in youth-led prevention charged with developing and running local learning hubs across the state, we knew they’d be able to offer different perspectives and valuable insight.

Like everything else in YLP, group policies should consider community readiness as well as organizational support. Ideally, policies will be flexible enough to allow groups to adapt to changing circumstances while also supporting the young people we serve. It’s also important to recognize, however, that group policies may also be limited by community readiness and organizational support. It may be necessary to educate key stakeholders, including parents, youth members, school officials, supervisors, and the board of directors about what it means to be transgender or non-binary and why it’s important to accommodate these students during overnight events.

You can learn more about community readiness by referring to this guide on the Tri-Ethnic Community Readiness Model, which offers step-by-step instructions on how to assess readiness for group activities. This model also offers recommendations on how to prepare a community for the implementation of a group goal, whether it’s related to substance misuse prevention, or a new group policy.

NATHAN’S NOTE: I’d expand on this point, too. It’s fair to say that community readiness is WHY we’re expanding this and organizational support is a major HOW factor. 50 years ago, the most liberal-minded social justice warriors wouldn’t have even been having this conversation. 

What RLC Leaders Had to Say 

“For our overnights, we have to go with the policy of the facility (it is a church camp [that doesn’t accommodate genders other than male or female]). In cabins with common areas (boys on one side, girls on the other), we can make arrangements, if necessary.” 

—Karen Lackey, Director of Community Prevention Services, GPS Empowered & northeast Ohio RLC Leader

NATHAN’S NOTE: I added “that doesn’t accommodate genders other than male or female” to the above because several church denominations do recognize and support transgender and non-binary students. We don’t want to assume, and thus alienate, that readers of a religious persuasion share in Karen’s church camp’s position). 

Schools in Transition is a great resource for schools to use to support trans students.  Our policy is individuals are placed where they are most comfortable. Where possible based on our venue, we have offered all-gender restrooms and/or lodging options. ”

—Shawn Jeffers, Director of Leadership Development, Youth at the Center & southwest Ohio RLC Leader

“We place each student in housing based on how they identify when they register. If the student has made an effort to let us know, we have open conversations with them about their comfortability/preferences (rooming with someone they know, rooming alone, having their own bathroom if they want it, no special treatment, etc.). Our goal is to make sure they are having a positive experience where they feel safe in what is most likely a new and unfamiliar experience for them. If they do not feel comfortable and safe where they are at night than they probably won’t have a good experience during the day.” 

—Kevin Rigby, Manager of Youth Prevention, Youth to Youth International & central Ohio RLC Leader

“Reach out to the Board of Directors as the agency would need to be on board with whatever policy is made. We have worked closely with our agency attorney to update many of our preexisting policies. He is a great attorney and so easy to work with, so we are lucky as I know not all areI have a few recommendations of things that have worked for us:   

  • Talk to the individual themselves. Ask about their preferences, thoughts, and what would make them feel most comfortable. Then see if it is possible to make that happen. 
  • Try to find at least one restroom that can be designated either a special bathroom for that student or a non-specified bathroom. We always look for singles when we are on a college campus but sometimes there are none. 
  • For overnight rooming, again, asking if they are comfortable sleeping in [the] room alone. (As mentioned, we are often on a college campus and singles are usually an option for us). If they are not comfortable rooming alone, think about students and/or parents of students who would be ok with rooming together. 

Remember safety is most important. Not just the safety of that student, but the safety of others. Sadly, some students and families are not as openminded, and [it’s important to be] careful not to set any student up for failure or a feeling of being unsafe.”

—Cheryl Sells, Director of Youth Prevention, Youth to Youth International, & central Ohio RLC leader

Transgender and non-binary students have always been a part of youth-led prevention—even before their programs recognized and validated their identities. Still, it’s never too late for youth-led groups to reflect on what they currently do to welcome and support trans and non-binary students, and to identify gaps in policy and practice that can be resolved through thoughtful conversation and action. After all, youth-led prevention should be a safe place for all young people to develop and grow, and we cannot fulfill that vision until and unless we’re able to embrace and support our trans and non-binary youth.