The world thrives when the youth lead
“Youth are the experts on their own experiences,” said a teen on a panel recently, on Zoom as most panels are nowadays. “What we need are more spaces where we get to share our own stories.” Nothing could be truer. We now live in an age where youth are stepping into more and more conversations ranging from climate change to queer rights to racial equity, and staking claim to their futures with clarity, courage, and compassion.
TYTAN (Trans Youth Taking Action Now), our youth leadership program was started two years ago, with the same objective – to encourage, empower, and equip trans and non-binary youth to be changemakers.
The program was envisioned to help trans youth own their narratives and step into leadership roles that appeal to them. The teens in this program work with mentors to explore and develop leadership skills such as storytelling, facilitation, public speaking, and mentorship, and grant/scholarship writing. Through learning to use their voice, experience, and heart, they hope to help change the world and make a difference for other trans youth, their families, and their communities.
By design, the youth leaders determine the course of their leadership journeys. As one TYTAN put it, “it’s an incredible experience. We get to decide what we want from it and build off of that. It’s all up to us! (With plenty of support, of course.)” The TYTANs have done that in many different ways. In a project around facilitation, TYTANs have been intent on showing up as role-models for younger trans youth. They explain how they would have benefited in their own journeys by the presence of youth mentors they did not have. They, hence, want to address the vacuum that they experienced. They stepped into co-facilitation for our monthly middle-school and high-school support groups for trans youth. Their presence shows the younger trans youth who witness them as future with promise, something they seldom get a chance to otherwise.
The TYTANs also present frequently at conferences and events as part of trans teen panels for families and professionals. At our annual conference in 2019, they led youth workshops and activities as well as excelled in the role of youth space hosts for other youth conference participants.
The program has not been all smooth. 2020 was challenging with the pandemic upending all plans. The TYTANs immediately pivoted into planning, piloting, and launching their own talk show over Zoom called “Let’s Talk Gender.” Over the five episodes, the topics included: “Gender during quarantine,” “Trans youth entering the workforce,” “What Pride means to us,” and “Breaking the rules to become ourselves.” The hope was not only to bring attention to the stories and perspectives of trans youth but inspire and inform younger trans folks. An audience member of Let’s Talk Gender said: “I love watching the TYTANs, they are so amazing! They are truly the definition of ‘The kids are all right.’ They know what’s going on, and they articulate it beautifully. They interact well together and have such wonderful suggestions for what we can do. I just want everyone to see how amazing they are! I teared up several times during that stream because I love them so!”
Through their different ideas and projects, the TYTANs demonstrate the power and importance of young voices. In the world today, understandably narratives around trans youth are often about the barriers they face. Our TYTANs are confident that they can build a story about trans youth as leaders — a story of hope, positivity, and action. Like a TYTAN said, participating in the program was a positive experience because “it taught me that my voice as a trans teen can and should be heard.” Another TYTAN opined: “It’s been extremely helpful in teaching me how to support my community even when the rest of the world seems like it’s falling apart.”
The two years of TYTAN have been an enlightening experience for the staff at Trans Families as much as the youth. These youth leaders are showing us how trans youth leadership can sprout in diverse meaningful ways when given space, tools, and support.
The TYTANs are steadily emerging as the changemakers the world seeks.
VATSA (SRI) SREEDHARA, Program Manager