Every Young Person Deserves to Feel Safe and Supported at School

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center stands firmly in support, recognition, and celebration of the humanity, individuality, beauty, and rights of LGBTQ+ peoples. We especially want to tell trans youth and adults that we support you and welcome your beautiful selves.

We are deeply saddened by the death of Nex Benedict, a gender-expansive 16-year-old from Oklahoma who died a day after being beaten by three students in a school bathroom—one violent episode among many, many aggressions suffered by Benedict.

This young person’s precious life is one more terrible loss in a long line of tragedies that together we could prevent. We call to our many communities to recognize and stop bullying and youth violence by helping children understand the inherent worth of each and every human.

The Stowe Center’s mission is to encourage social justice and literary activism by exploring the legacy of Harriet Beecher Stowe. When Harriet Beecher Stowe set out to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, her intent was to expose the violence fundamental to the process of enslaving human beings. She wanted to “say what is true and only that.” The violent treatment and shaming of trans people is a direct result of dehumanization; we must call attention to this truth and speak up always to stop dehumanization.

As a social justice museum, the Stowe Center focuses on illuminating historical systems of oppression as well as movements for positive change. We explore ideas together with our visitors to understand our past and our present with the goal of building a more equitable future.

Othering people who do not fit an arbitrary definition of normal is a system of oppression intended to take power for one group while disempowering another. Bullying is an oppressive act of aggression, also intended to take power and use it against another. Othering and bullying creates a system in which individuality, creativity, self-expression, and being oneself are repressed and punished. It is wrong.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the first openly gay White House press secretary, addressed the tragedy of Benedict’s death at the start of the February 23 White House briefing: “Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school.”

Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school.

We agree. What do we need to do to make this so?

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers is the Executive Director of GLSEN, which was founded by a group of teachers in 1990. The teachers knew that educators play key roles in creating affirming learning environments for LGBTQ youth.

“I can’t imagine if I were 17 in this moment,” Willingham-Jaggers laments, explaining that not only are lawmakers criminalizing the identities of queer youth, but they are also criminalizing the adults who want to help them.

With increasing laws in several states criminalizing support for LGBTQ+ children—the threat expands, because often if people are not used to diversity, they fear it. And for oppressed people, if they do not see themselves anywhere, they suffer.

Still there are folks who resist. One example is a teacher who keeps a secret library in Texas. “Having these books, having these stories out there meant a lot to me,” said one of the teacher’s students who is Trans, “because I felt seen,”

Change requires courage to rebel in the face of unjust systems. The Underground Railroad was an avenue of freedom, supported by allies. This teacher’s secret library is a modern life-line.

Connecticut is perceived as a refuge for people from across the country seeking safety for themselves and their children from the anti-trans hatred and vindictive laws of other states. But our perception of the world is not bounded by state lines when the Internet reigns.

Knowledge—especially knowledge gained through reading—has the power to relieve fear of the “other,” to help us know we are not alone, and to help us build empathy.

Please speak up to protect our children from hate.

Suggested Reading

NYTimes: What We Know About the Death of a Nonbinary Student in Oklahoma

The Trevor Project: Trans Children Bullying Report

Human Rights Campaign: CDC report on LGBTQ+ Bullying

New York Public Library: Trans and Nonbinary Reads for Kids

New York Public Library: Trans and Nonbinary Reads for Teens

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is a social justice museum and educational organization. Our mission is to encourage social justice and literary activism by exploring the legacy of Harriet Beecher Stowe.