As I prepare to head off to college, TIME magazine has just named me on their annual list of the 100 Most Influential People. While I am really moved and humbled, the honor really belongs to a larger community I’m proud to be a part of, made up of a number of brave voices who are the most influential people to me.
When I started high school, I found the courage to tell my parents something that I had known for a long time. I told them that I am transgender and that I am a boy. They had nothing but love and support for me.
And by the time school started in my fairly conservative small town, I was finally living as my true self. Before school began, my mother and I met with the school administration, telling them who I was and asking them to respect my male gender identity. They assured me that teachers and administrators would call me Gavin and use male pronouns when referring to me, and if anyone gave me any kind of trouble it would be resolved right away.
It was overwhelming to feel such support and care as I entered new and uncharted territory.
But I was still anxious. I wasn’t sure that I’d be accepted for who I am, so I didn’t initially ask for permission to use the boys’ restroom. After a few days of using the restroom in the nurse’s office I talked to the principal about using the boys’ restroom, which he allowed me to do. For seven weeks , I went to the boys’ restroom without incident.
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But my hopes for experiencing high school like any of my peers were quickly dashed when the school board announced that it would discuss where I go to the bathroom at its next meeting. I watched as members of my community talked of wanting to “keep that girl out of the boys’ room.” It was painful. But I stood up for myself at that school board meeting. And in court. And on Capitol Hill. And in the media. And throughout the country.
Nearly three years later, I stand stronger and prouder than ever. I had never imagined that my fight would find its way all the way to the Supreme Court, and that my story would resonate with so many people from so many walks of life. I found myself at the center of national focus, and at the center of a fight far bigger than me, and about a lot more than restrooms.
Being thrust into the national spotlight is certainly not something I had aspired to, but it’s a role that I have come to appreciate and cherish, and I do my best to speak out responsibly on behalf of transgender people everywhere.
I am lucky to not only be able to stand with my family, friends, and the many wonderful advocates at the ACLU who have become like family to me, but also to be able to stand with millions of Americans everywhere who experience the same challenges and fears that I’ve faced, and to help share their stories with the world.
Since I started on this journey to the Supreme Court, I’ve received hundreds of messages from people who are transgender. I’ve received messages about students younger than me who are afraid of what their classmates will say about their identity. There are mothers and fathers who remind me that I’m not alone. And there are people who aren’t transgender but who still write to thank me for speaking out on behalf of a loved one who is.
Each person who writes is looking for the courage to just be themselves, and by sharing their story they also encourage me to continue sharing mine.
I’m just Gavin. I have frustrations, stress, hopes, and dreams like millions of other young people in America. And like everyone else, sometimes I have to use the restroom. It’s not political. It’s just life. By sharing my story, I hope more Americans understand that we have more in common than we think. I know I can’t change everyone’s mind, but I hope I can at least help to start the conversation. I hope when people see me in TIME magazine, they have a little more courage to stand up to for themselves, to advocate for themselves, and to love their authentic selves.
The reality is, everyone deserves a childhood free from humiliation or discrimination. But seeing the recent actions of lawmakers in Texa, Arkansas, Washington, North Carolina, and more, many students across the country feel like that’s a distant idea.
With more and more anti-LGBT politicians proposing measures targeting trans people, creating obstacles for us, and trying to discredit our humanity, we must empower our classmates, friends, and families to stand up to hate and make their voices heard. We must listen to the stories of kids who have the same right exist in public life like any other student.
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One of those students is Mack Beggs, who won the Texas state girls’ wrestling championship in an undefeated season. Instead of letting Mack enjoy the moment, his win was met with boos from many in the crowd not because of anything he did, but because he was a trans boy competing against cisgender girls. That was never Mack’s choice to begin with; he would have preferred to wrestle against other boys. But officials who oversee student athletics in Texas schools require students to compete against the sex listed on their birth certificates.
Mack had the courage to speak to reporters after his victory, saying simply: “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my teammates.”
His words were simple yet powerful, and something that resonated with me strongly. In the same way, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now to advocate for transgender rights if it weren’t for my teammates, for my community, for the many supporters out there who have empowered and encouraged me to keep pushing forward.
I wouldn’t be included on TIME magazine’s list if I didn’t have family that supported me, that stood by me every step of the way and encouraged me to fight. I wouldn’t be where I am if it hadn’t been for the brave people who came before me who spoke out for transgender people everywhere.
It has been an honor to serve as an ambassador, as a representative of a community so vibrant, so resilient, and so loving. I thank that community for their support, and in return I promise to continue telling your stories and affirming that you and I have a right to be here, to exist in public life, and to be happy.
RELATED VIDEO: Transgender Father & Daughter Speak Out on North Carolina ‘Bathroom Bill: ‘It’s Not a Repeal’
My case is still in the courts, and by the time there is any resolution, I will have already finished high school. But I don’t consider this a loss. Because this case is not about restrooms and it’s not about high school. It’s about sending a message to the next generation that you are just as important as anyone else, and you have the right to exist in public space as much as anyone else does. Whether it’s using a restroom, a locker room, a dressing room, a movie theater, a restaurant, or an airplane – we deserve the same rights as everyone else.
We are going to win. The fight might be long, but the victory will be worth the perseverance. I encourage other trans students to not sit on the sidelines. Stand for something, not against something. Stand with someone, not against someone. Stand with me, and I’ll stand with you.