Creating Safe Spaces for ALL Youth: TYSN Provides Perspective

Published on March 21, 2014 | Written by


Last week Youthprise concluded our training series with the Trans Youth Support Network. Recently you may have heard about TYSN related to their advocacy work around CeCe McDonald’s release and the upcoming documentary project about her story. Executive Director Katie Burgess has been on networks like MSNBC speaking about McDonald’s case and the importance of advocating for the rights of trans people – specifically trans women of color.

But beyond advocacy on a national level, TYSN is known for the work they do in communities across Minnesota. They are a Minneapolis-based organization that provides trainings like the one they did at Youthprise to combat barriers in access for trans youth, and additionally they have a strong youth membership model, which offers opportunities for leadership training and skills building for trans youth through the leadership academy.

Our training was co-facilitated by two young people who had gone through the leadership academy along with Roxanne Anderson, TYSN’s Program Director. Youthprise reached out to TYSN to provide a training to our staff because we understand that in order to ensure that all Minnesotan youth succeed, it is important to prioritize young people who experience the biggest gaps in access to out-of-school time programs and other services – and trans youth, specifically trans youth of color, face a multitude of barriers when it comes to access.

Below are some of the things that we learned about diversity of trans identities, the gaps many trans people face when accessing services, and the importance of gender neutral bathrooms.

First of all TYSN’s definition of “trans” is as follows: “When we use the term ‘trans,’ we mean any person who challenges or crosses over their society’s perceived gender roles and/or expectations.”

TYSN challenged us to think about the ways that our office space, our program areas and our work reinforced expectations around gender binaries. They explained that the difference between gender and sex is this: sex is assigned at birth based on biological factors. Gender, a socialized way of performing the sex assignment, is presumed to align with the assigned sex. Think about it, what is the first thing you learn about a baby when it is born? If it’s a boy or a girl! How else would one know what gendered toys to buy for this new human?

But while it’s largely accepted that people are expected to identify along the lines of the sex and gender they are assigned at birth, there are many people around the world that do not identify in this binary. Sometimes it takes the form of identifying across the gender spectrum: someone who was assigned female at birth but who identifies as a man. Other times people do not identify on either side of the spectrum but in between and present themselves in more androgynous ways. The important thing that we took away was this: no matter what sex was assigned at birth, every person should be able to make the decision about which gender and sex they identify as and how to represent that identity.

One of the big learning moments was about the importance of creating a safe space for all people, regardless of how they identify. Here are some tangible steps that Youthprise is committed to taking moving forward:

  • When doing introductions, we will ask people how they identify with the following question: what gender pronoun do you prefer?
  • We will think about how to tackle our building’s gender-specific bathrooms which do not provide a safe space for trans people. Could we advocate for a single occupancy unisex bathroom?
  • We will think deeply about the ways we collect data and how to include trans youth in these data collection efforts.
  • Most importantly: we will think intersectionally about our programs, our work and our office space. We already know that there are gaps in access for Minnesota youth. How can we ensure that we are including the experiences of trans youth when we talk about Minnesota youth?

How do you create access in your programs for trans youth? How do you ensure your office is a safe space for all people? Do you collect data on trans youth? How do you think about the ways that race, class and gender identity intersect?

TYSN provided a training and perspective to our staff that was truly transformational. If you are interested in learning more about their work, you can visit their website here.

If you are interested in learning more about the trainings they provide, you can find more information here.

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