Why I'm Standing With LGBTQ Youth on Spirit Day and Beyond


By the time I was a sophomore in high school, it had become routine for me to be sent home for wearing dresses. My mere presence in a skirt became an act of protest that would get me called out of class and into the vice principal's office.

"You're making students uncomfortable," the vice principal would say. "They can't concentrate on their studies."

I argued that they couldn't concentrate on their studies because they were too busy gawking at me, whispering about me, giggling at me. My dress wasn't the problem; their ignorance and intolerance was. I couldn't understand why being myself warranted reprimands.

This vice principal did not take into consideration how long it had taken for me to gather the inner strength to openly express my femininity. He did not think about how calling me out of class because of my garments disrupted my education. He did not care to realize that by singling me out, he was validating some of my peers' taunts, making me look all the more like some kind of deviant.

Through his and the administration's words and actions, I was told I didn't belong in that school. I was not welcome, despite my involvement (I was captain of the volleyball team, played tuba in the marching band and was elected to student government). I felt isolated for daring to be myself, a transgender girl.

Ultimately, I transferred to a school that affirmed me and welcomed me and also reflected me with a teen group called Chrysalis. In Chrysalis I was just one of many trans, gender-diverse and queer students who gathered once a week. We discussed our struggles and dreams. We snapped our fingers at each other's fierceness and read one another when it was necessary. It was a space that we created to let our members know that we were not alone, and, more importantly, to let our peers know that we were not going anywhere.

Looking back on myself -- a 16-year-old trans girl with Beyoncé braids and dreams of being a writer in New York -- I marvel at how forward we were with the creation of this group, a necessary space that's needed more than ever in schools everywhere. That sense of visible solidarity is why I'm wearing purple this Oct. 19 for Spirit Day.

I believe that wearing purple on this day will do for LGBTQ youth what Chrysalis did for me at a time when I needed it most: It will help them see themselves reflected in the faces and stories of people like them, or validated by allies who understand and affirm them. That level of visibility is empowering.

I applaud Brittany McMillan, a Canadian teen who created Spirit Day in 2010 to honor the memory of young people who took their lives after being isolating by bullying. Like millions of LGBTQ allies, McMillan is working to amplify the voices of those who rarely get to speak out about their issues or are weary of doing the work all alone.

"I wanted to do something to spread awareness about the loss of these teenagers," McMillan, who struggled with depression herself, wrote in an op-ed for The Advocate, "and I wanted to show support for anyone going through similar problems."

I'm a Spirit Day Ambassador (alongside Perez Hilton, Zach Wahls, Wendy Williams and more) for the same reason that I shared my story of growing up as a young trans girl, the same reason that I'm writing my memoir, Fish Food, and the same reason that I aim to empower trans women through our #girlslikeus community: Only by amplifying our voices and sharing our truth, in its wide array of brilliant colors, do we learn to accept and embrace one another.

I urge you to wear purple Oct. 19 -- and when you put on your normal garments on Oct. 20, I urge you to continue taking a stand for LGBTQ youth by supporting your local youth shelters, sharing GLSEN's safe-schools resources, volunteering at LGBTQ youth spaces and, more importantly, backing up the young person who is being teased for bravely being themselves.