Education to Stop Transgender Injustice: Interview with Eli Erlick

March 23, 2017

“5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker” Interview Series

78% of young people who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming have experienced harassment according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. One of these individuals is Eli Erlick, who at eight years old, opened up to her 3rd-grade classroom that she identified as a girl and not a boy as many viewed her.

Photo by (John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News)

The conservative, rural area she grew up in was not prepared to support her. “I faced so much isolation, harassment, and violence every day that I went to school. I wasn’t allowed to use the restroom for six years during that time and had teachers who would insult me in front of classmates…I didn’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else,” says Erlick. Motivated, she took the pain and frustration from what was happening to her and other trans youth and transformed it into a movement.

After School spoke with Eli Erlick for the “5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker” Interview Series. The series is hosted by After School in partnership with nonprofit organization Peace First and includes teens all across the country who have made a difference in a wide variety of ways, from anti-bullying to raising awareness for the homeless. We spoke with Eli about her work to educate people on transgender youth and injustice through her organization, Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER).

In high school, Erlick teamed up with fellow 15-year-old trans activist, Alex Sennello, to develop a platform for education on trans issues. “Trans Student Educational Resources is a national organization dedicated to transforming the education environment for trans and gender nonconforming students,” states Erlick. She adds, “We are the only national organization run by trans youth and also the only one focusing on trans students.” TSER provides several programs, including teaching young trans-activists how to be effective leaders in their community and hosting workshops for students, teachers, and others on trans issues.

Similar to Erlick, many trans youth are born into communities that do not understand how to support them. This, along with its role in activism, is where Erlick sees the tremendous importance in the organization. “It can be hard to be ‘out.’ I know that being a very openly transgender woman is something that causes me to face a lot of violence…this is part of why TSER has been so important to the trans youth movement,” says Erlick.

Drawing attention to violence and educating people go hand-in-hand on the topic of battling back against injustice towards at trans youth. A large part of that battle is getting messages and information out on a community-level. “We are able to help other young trans people get mobilized and take action in their own communities,” states Erlick.

Asked what a teen looking to make an impact on the world should do, Eli says, “The most powerful change comes from collective action, when you work together. Finding others you can work with is an extremely important part of changing society and also getting started. I owe everything I’ve done to the people I work with.” To find great people to work with, Eli recommends starting on the internet building relationships and finding people with similar interests.

Learn more about Trans Student Educational Resources by visiting www.transstudent.org.

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