Celebrating and Defending Trans and Non-Binary Lives

There are more than 2 million transgender and nonbinary people across the United States, and one in five Americans personally knows someone who uses a pronoun other than “he” or “she.” Though many of us know trans and nonbinary people who are our co-workers, neighbors, family, and friends, this community faces harassment, discrimination, and violence at an alarming rate. In 2021 alone, dozens of trans and nonbinary Americans have been murdered, and we have seen a record amount of anti-trans legislation that attempts to restrict or eliminate access to health care, education, and many other human rights.

Ahead of Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, RFK Human Rights partnered with the Human Rights Campaign to create a lesson plan to teach students about transgender and nonbinary people who come from all walks of life and to equip this generation with the skills and knowledge to become better allies to the LGBTQ+ community. Gavin Grimm, Andrea Jenkins, Laverne Cox, Schuyler Bailar, and Jacob Tobia are recognized as human rights defenders who represent different sectors and facets of the human and trans experience. The lesson asks students to consider the social and cultural constructions of gender and to reflect on what it means to live as your authentic self. Students also research and analyze stories about transgender and nonbinary people reported in the news before learning about how the rights of gender-expansive people are protected and upheld by the United Nations. Finally, students consider how cisgender people can help to support and defend the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community by talking to friends/family members, fighting against microaggressions, and educating themselves about pronouns, inclusive language, and trans and nonbinary people throughout culture and history.

Gavin Grimm (he/him/his) is a student and activist who fights for students to be seen as who they are by their schools and governments. After being banned from the boy’s restroom at his school, he worked with the ACLU to fight his case to the Supreme Court.

Andrea Jenkins (she/her/hers) is the first African American openly trans woman to be elected to office in the United States. She represents Ward 8 of the Minneapolis City Council and curated the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota.

Laverne Cox (she/her/hers) is an artist, advocate, and Emmy winning producer. She was the first openly transgenderr person to be featured on the covers of TIME magazine, British Vogue, Cosmopolitan magazine, and Essence, and holds two SAG Awards for her performance in Orange is the New Black.

Schuyler Bailar (he/him/his) is the first transgender athlete to have competed in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team. As an inspirational speaker and inclusion advocate, he was awarded Harvard’s Athletics Director’s Award and his story has been shared with 60 Minutes, MTV, The Ellen Show, and with schools, governments, corporations, and nonprofits.

Jacob Tobia (they/them/theirs) is an actor, writer, producer, and author of the national bestselling memoir Sissy: A Coming-of Gender Story. They are a member of Forbes 30 Under 30 and the OUT 100, and they were profiled in the GLAAD Award nominated episode of True Life: I’m Genderqueer.

Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates. STTP recommends that those facilitating the lesson consider reviewing or sharing the “Transgender FAQ” piece and other helpful resources from the HRC. Classes may choose to utilize additional digital resources, such as our panel discussion on “Celebrating and Defending Trans Lives in the Classroom and Beyond” and our profiles featuring Trans Activists Who Are Making a Difference.