November is Transgender Awareness Month, when we celebrate the courage, individuality and identities of trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals.
The month culminates this year on November 20 with Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is set aside to honor the lives stolen by acts of anti-transgender violence. It’s a day to remember those who are gone, but also a day to celebrate the resilience of a community that continues to advocate for the human rights of all trans and nonbinary individuals.
To mark the occasion, we sat down with consultant and national expert Elliott Hinkle to hear their thoughts about the challenges that trans and nonbinary youth face today, but also to celebrate their unique identities and contributions.
Could you describe a little bit of the work that you do?
Through Unicorn Solutions, my focus is on child welfare, youth mental health, and the LGBTQ population, especially adolescent or transition age youth and queer and trans youth. I’m very interested in helping providers – be that parents, adoptive parents, caseworkers, juvenile justice staff, whoever it is – to better support the young people that they’re going to come in contact with.
A lot of the work is focused on trying to get adults to just let children thrive and be themselves, and that looks like all sorts of things in the world that we’re in right now.
What inspires and motivates you?
For me, it’s deeply personal. I grew up in foster care in Wyoming with rural and conservative roots as a queer person and as a trans person that weren’t always as affirming or supportive. And really challenging mental health when the world is sending you a lot of messages that make you feel like you’re not supposed to be here. I know how impactful relationships were for me to be successful and to thrive and to navigate. In my work I look at going from surviving to thriving and creating more opportunities for young people or the people that support them to help them get there. Every time I meet more young people, I feel either more inspired to keep going or fascinated by new ideas that they have.
Who is one of your heroes?
Chase Strangio from the ACLU is someone I admire. Chase often posts on Instagram or other social media platforms about cases that they’ve been working on. They use their posts as an educational tool, while clearly also being very personally impacted by everything that they’re doing.
I really appreciate the work that Chase has done because what Chase is doing can feel really dehumanizing and exhausting when it’s your own personal identity that you’re constantly going to court over. It’s not an easy task. But I’m very grateful that he does the work that he’s done, because I know it also inspires other people.
How many people have lost their lives to transphobic violence this year?
HRC (Human Rights Campaign) tracks that information as best they can, although they know that many incidents are not reported or inaccurately reported. They have recorded at least 25 transgender and gender non-conforming people whose lives have been tragically, inhumanely taken through violent means, including through gun and interpersonal violence in 2023.
Is there one specific individual that you can talk about?
In doing some research, I discovered a young person in Kansas. His name was Ace Scott, he was fifteen, and he had run away from a child welfare office in April 2022. About four days later, they found his body.
It’s important for us to keep in mind that even in child welfare, these things can happen. I think it’s completely normal for young people to run away from systems. If you have a fear, if you have a tiger chasing you, you’re going to want to leave. If a young person doesn’t feel safe enough to stay in a place or situation, then we should be thinking about why they didn’t want to be there, what were the problems?
Another thing to think about is how to write about the deaths of trans people and queer people thoughtfully, particularly around dead name usage. It can be challenging, but every time I read about queer and trans people, I think about if they died using that name, and that’s the name their community closest to them use, that sounds like the name that they were using to me.
How can we support young people in ways that center their happiness and joy and not just their trauma?
We know it is important to step away to recover, to rest, to not burn yourself out. And I think that’s absolutely true for children and youth, that even if the world is challenging and hard, we shouldn’t just be asking young people about their traumas. We should be finding out what helps them thrive and figuring out how we can make those things possible.
We should be doing research about the awesome things trans youth do, not just about the percentage of risk that they might attempt suicide, they might have depression or anxiety. Instead, let’s look at all the great things that they’ve done or their resilience factors or things like that.