Throughout the month of July, we will be sharing the inspiring essays from our Spirit of Dru Scholarship recipients. Please enjoy James van Kuilenburg's - he will be attending Dickenson College this fall.
My leadership and service have brought a new visibility to young LGBTQ+ people in my town and school.
I've been involved in my community since I came out as transgender at 12 years old. I was fortunate to come out to an accepting family, but school was the opposite. I wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom or even participate in gym class. I was bullied by students and teachers and eventually had to leave. After the horrible experience of losing my friends and struggling in school, I have been a community organizer and activist.
At school, I am the founder and president of my GSA, which has over 100 members. In the past, I have led projects for the club like creating affirming posters for the hallway, and organized dozens of events, like picnics and vigils, with hundreds of participants. My club is now the most popular club in the school, and the fastest growing in the county. I’ve helped students at three other high schools and four middle schools start similar clubs.
On a national level, I was part of a panel of trans students who spoke to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2015 and helped the creation of the trans-inclusive Title IX guidance released in 2016. In 2016, I spoke at the Bullying Prevention Summit at the White House and the Department of Education.
As an individual, I have written and hosted three professional development training for teachers, “Gender and Sexuality 101”, and “How To Be An Ally”. This has helped both teachers and students to create safe environments to learn. I also speak to the public about my personal story as a young trans person and have held my local community accountable to its promise of including all.
I'm the founder of a grassroots advocacy group called Support Frederick County Public School Trans Students, made up of trans students, family, teachers, and community members. I was the lead organizer of the first trans rights rally in my county of Frederick County, Maryland, and led a campaign to create a school policy welcoming and affirming trans students. I led email writing efforts, rallies, and hours of public comment. The policy, now called Policy 443, was passed in June of 2017, almost unanimously, thanks to the work of trans students and their allies.
Following this success, I organized a social media campaign titled #IAmFrederick. I encouraged people to take pictures of themselves and write a reason they support trans youth using the hashtag. The campaign was part of an effort to normalize trans people in my town. Our participants have ranged from friends, community members, state and local politicians, and representatives from national organizations.
My achievements have had local and national impacts. Overall, I have helped make my school system a safer place for everybody; where everyone is encouraged to be themselves and able to pursue their education without any boundaries. My goal is to stop what happened to me from happening to anyone else.