Name: James van Kuilenburg
From: Frederick, Maryland
School: Governor Thomas Johnson High School
I have been involved in my community since I came out as transgender at twelve years old.
I was accepted at home, but not at school, where I was bullied by
students and teachers relentlessly. After I left my middle school for
concerns for my safety, I became a community organizer and activist
for young transgender people.
In 2017, I founded (and still currently run) a grassroots transgender advocacy group in my town called Support
Frederick County Transgender Students. As the leader of the group, I
led the effort to work with my school system to pass a set of
welcoming and affirming guidelines for all students. I organized
hundreds of emails to be sent, and planned the first rally in support
of transgender students in my town. Over two hundred people,
teachers, students, parents, and religious leaders showed up and told
the school system they wanted protections for transgender students.
At that meeting, the Board agreed to discuss passing a policy to
protect trans students, and passed it in June of 2017. Now, we
continue working in the community by hosting events.
I spend a lot of time working with other local organizations, teachers, and community leaders. I spend
at least an hour a day every day working on social media and outreach
for the organization, which totals to about thirty or forty hours per
Being the leader of Support FCPS Trans Students hasn’t been easy. I’ve faced a lot of conflict and
confrontation with ignorant members of the community, and have had to
do a fair share of educating. It’s difficult to remain subjective
when it affects me so personally. That being said, this group has
given me so much inspiration and purpose over the past few months.
Being able to work on making schools and my community a safer place
has made my struggles worth it. I’ve learned how to make
connections with other community members that I would have never
After this experience with my group, I’m certain I want to keep doing advocacy work into my
adulthood. It’s so important to me that everyone feels safe in
their communities and homes, and I hope to continue doing that work
through politics and community organizing. My volunteering over the
past few months has been the definition of forward looking. The
successes and progress I made working with the group have been great,
but hardly any of it will affect me personally. I will go to college,
move out, and never step foot in those schools again; but my impact
will last forward into the future. This was never about me, it was
about those who will come after me. I hope my actions will last far
into the future; not just for transgender students, but for all
students. What I managed to accomplish in my school system is an
example of the power of youth, and I can’t wait to see what other
changes will come next!