All Students Need Safe, Supportive Spaces

I spent a lot of time on the road over the past few months, attending state conferences in Arizona, Wisconsin, Missouri and Texas. I had the opportunity to attend insightful sessions and engage in thoughtful, meaningful, and often sensitive conversations.

One of the sessions at the MOAPHERD convention that really made an impact on me was Linda Oakleaf’s presentation titled “Are You Inclusive? Working With Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth.”

In the session, she presented results from her recent survey, which studied physical activity habits among transgender adults.

Out of 720 survey participants, 68% reported zero physical activity in the week prior to taking the survey. Zero. When asked why, 28% cited “concerns about using the shower” and 24% cited “concerns about changing facilities.” Another 20% cited they “do not feel welcome” in physical activity spaces.

This is among adults. Adults who, in theory, have a certain level of maturity and ability to cope and navigate a world that is all too often unkind to the transgender community. Now think about how kids navigate this same world. Though I haven’t seen studies on how transgender children feel about physical activity and physical education, I’m willing to bet these concerning statistics are even higher for them. And it breaks my heart.


Here’s what we do know about transgender children and teenagers, from a recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Transgender adolescents attempt suicide at a much higher rate than young people whose gender identity matches the sex on their birth certificates. In fact, 51% of transgender male adolescents reported at least one suicide attempt, as did 42% of nonbinary adolescents and 30% of transgender female adolescents.

When I read these statistics, I think about my own three children. I think about the very real possibility that any of them could eventually identify as a member of the LGBTQ community. And I wonder: Would their school and community show them support and kindness? What would I want, need and expect from their teachers, their school and the community?

I have really admired the bravery of the many health and PE teachers who are asking the tough questions such as: How do we appropriately manage fitness assessments of transgender students? What should we do regarding changing facilities and/or bathroom situations? How can I empower transgender students to be active and feel good about their body?

For all these reasons and more, I am proud that Hillary Whittington, author of Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child With No Strings Attached, will be one of our keynote speakers at this year’s national convention. After I read Hillary’s powerful book, she became one of my personal heroes.

Hillary and her husband Jeff will be presenters on Friday, April 12, sharing their journey as the parents of a transgender 7-year-old son. I hope you will hear for yourself how important it is for Ryland to have a solidly supportive, inclusive and kind learning environment at school — and how you, as a health and PE teacher, can play a critical role in creating such spaces for all kids like Ryland.

Stephanie’s Top Picks for #SHAPETampa

DMC! | RUN DMC is one of the most influential acts in the history of hip hop — and I’m thrilled that Darryl DMC McDaniels will be our opening keynote speaker! He’ll be talking about his own health story and why the work we do is so important to him personally!

Career Center! | I’m so proud of this new addition to our convention lineup! Emerging professionals and students can get a professional headshot, have a mock interview, and meet with recruiters trying to fill positions — all in our exhibit hall!

Hall of Fame Celebration & Give Back Event! | The Hall of Fame event has always been that revered moment when we announce the new National Teachers of the Year. This year, we’re making it more accessible with a lower cost of just $45, which includes a drink ticket and some incredible appetizers. Best of all, a portion of the proceeds will support sending teachers to SPEAK Out! Day!

Stephanie Morris

Stephanie Morris is a passionate advocate for effective PE and skills-based health programs in schools. She is CEO of SHAPE America and is also a mom to three kids, an enthusiastic runner and weight lifter, and a consummate chef. Her preferred pronouns are she/her/hers. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @SHAPEAmericaCEO or reach her at