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Creating a safe and affirming space for transgender youth

Creating a safe and affirming space for transgender youth

In the face of rising anti-trans legislation and cultural challenges, the resilience and joy of trans youth underscore the urgent need for affirming spaces and supportive communities.

At 29 years old, I am considered an elder in my community.

This Sunday marked Transgender Day of Visibility, an international day to recognize and celebrate trans community, joy, and resilience. This moment of celebration, sadly, is marred by the anti-trans legislative and cultural war on us, most especially targeted trans youth. Worse, a recent study by the Trevor Project found that 53% of trans and gender-diverse youth don’t believe that they’ll live to see age 35.

For the past two years, trans kids have been the target of dangerous legislative and cultural attacks, many aimed at limiting access to and criminalizing participation in sports, healthcare, libraries, classrooms, identity documents, and caring families. These bills not only put trans youth’s mental health at risk, they threaten their lives. 2024 is on track to be one of the most hostile years on record for proposed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, mainly aimed at trans youth, from politicians who claim they want to “protect” youth.

But when we listen to trans kids, really listen, we hear a different story.

Creating a safe and affirming space for transgender youthShutterstock

Youth don’t feel protected—far from it. They speak of fear and uncertainty using the bathroom at school in second grade. They talk about the sadness of quitting soccer after aging out of all-gender teams in 5th grade. They speak of frustration when adults doubt what they have always known to be true about themselves. Meanwhile, through all of the fear, sadness, and frustration, at the end of the day, trans kids want to be kids.

Over the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of being in a community with well over 200 trans and gender-diverse youth, ranging in age from 4 to 14. As a youth program manager, summer camp counselor, and community advocate, I have frequently witnessed the relief that washes over kids when they find an affirming space and realize they can finally let their guard down. When they walk into a room full of other trans kids and adult mentors, they finally focus on playing and making new friends. I have watched as kids who entered our programs buzzing from head to toe with anxiety leave two hours later full of wonder and excitement.

There is something truly magical about witnessing the joy that fills a child when they realize, maybe for the first time, that other kids share their experiences. That they are not alone.

Creating a safe and affirming space for transgender youthShutterstock

For many of the families I work with, I am the first trans adult they have ever met, the first confirmation that their child has a future to grow into.

A few months back, as I was getting ready for top surgery, I received a text from a friend and colleague–the parent of a transgender son. She told me she shared a photo of me with her son since she thought we shared a resemblance: a flop of red hair atop our heads. Seeing this picture of me gave her son a chance to see a potential version of his future self, giving both parent and child hope and excitement for the future.

I was immediately moved to tears, realizing I see myself in him, too.

I see the potential childhood I could have had if I had the vocabulary and access to transition when I was younger. I see a future where we have an entire generation of trans adults who get to experience childhoods with caring families who can affirm and guide them from a young age. I see hope and excitement reflected right back to me. It has been immensely healing for me as a trans adult to be in a community with trans children and to learn from each other, with a lineage of trans ancestry stretching across generations.

Creating a safe and affirming space for transgender youthShutterstock

While visibility is not enough to achieve safety, equality, and justice for our community, it can provide a starting place for healing. On TDOV and all days, we must actively work to create a current world, not just a future, where LGBTQ+ youth don’t just survive, they thrive.

Ty Kitchen (they/them) is a Programs Manager at SMYAL, where they lead programming for LGBTQ+ youth ages 6-13.

Equalpride, the parent company of The Advocate, is proud to partner with SMYAL as part of our Community Partnership program. You can learn more about our initiative at

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