A new school year often means new challenges for gender-expansive youth, especially those who are about to start at a new school, or who are expressing their gender differently than when classes ended the year before. Students often question where they can turn for help at their school, and what outside resources are available.

To answer these questions, we sought the advice of Dr. Elyse Pine, an internationally-recognized pediatric endocrinologist and a lead clinician with The LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care’s Gender JOY program, which addresses the needs of hundreds of transgender and gender non-conforming youth and their families.

What advice would you give middle school and high school-age gender-expansive youth as they go back to school?

Starting a new school year can be an anxious time, but I would advise them to be positive and hopeful for a great year. Maryland has protections for transgender and gender-expansive students, available at Tinyurl.com/MDTransLaw. Students can use their preferred name and pronouns whether or not they have had a legal name change or any type of medical treatment.

How can students deal with instances of bullying or harassment, and where can they turn to for help?

All Maryland schools have policies that protect students from bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Sadly, nearly half of LGBT students have faced some form of harassment, according to a recent survey conducted by GLSEN. School programs such as Gay-Straight Alliance clubs can be a source of support and are present in more than three-quarters of Maryland schools. Ninety-eight percent of students surveyed by GLSEN said they were able to find at least one supportive educator in the school system to turn to for help.

How do I know how “out” I should be about my identity?

That is a very personal question, and very personal decision. Some people are able to live fully and authentically in all parts of their lives, and some people are in situations where that is not possible. It can be very tough to transition in a situation without support from family and community. It can be very comforting to know all the information about your rights and know the available resources even if you are not using them right now. GenderSpectrum.org is a great online resource, with lots of information.

What resources are there in Maryland for transgender youth?

In addition to the LGBT Health Resource Center’s Gender JOY program, which now offers comprehensive care to more than 800 gender-expansive youth and their families and is the only program of its kind in greater Baltimore, there are several great resources in the Maryland area. In Baltimore, Star Track has a support group for transfeminine youth “Girl Talk.” There are groups through PFLAG for teens called “Rainbow Youth and Allies” and for Tweens in Howard County. GLSEN has great resources and can be a support for school issues and bullying/harassment. Ally Moms (Callhimhunter.wordpress.com/ally-moms) is a great resource with a list of mothers of transgender youth and a place to talk to a supportive parent. There are two upcoming conferences with lots of information on transgender youth: The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference from September 7th to 9th and Gender Conference East in Newark, New Jersey on November 4th.

For more information about the Gender JOY program and The LGBT Health Resource Center, call 410-837-2050 x1049 or visit Resourcecenter.lgbt.