Your name/a little about yourself?
Hi, I'm Eli Erlick. I direct the organization Trans Student Educational Resources, which is dedicated to transforming the educational environment for transgender students. It is the only national organization run by trans youth. Along with that, I'm a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, media advocate, and writer.
What do you do?
I am the organizational director for TSER (www.transstudent.org, @transstudent), where we offer over a dozen programs and services around the topic of trans people, education, and youth organizing. TSER has produced resources used by thousands of colleges, published materials in dozens of books, and hosted the only national fellowship program for young trans people, Trans Youth Leadership Summit. We've been able to reach millions while remaining an organization entirely led by young trans people.
Along with directing TSER, I'm also a writer, public speaker, and organizer. You can check out more of my work at elierlick.com and my social media at @elierlick.
What's your story?
I came out as a transgender girl at the age of eight to the rural town of Willits in the mountains of Northern California in 2003. However, the community wasn’t ready to support me. I spent years facing constant harassment, isolation, and assault from my classmates, teachers, and community members. I couldn’t even use the restroom for six years of elementary and middle school. When many in the small town finally embraced my gender at age thirteen, the harassment continued and I still was disallowed from accessing programs and facilities with other girls. I started a policy at my high school to counteract this discrimination (one of the first transgender educational policies in California), which helped alleviate some of the harm. However, it was not enough. I did not want what happened to me to happen to anyone else, so I co-founded Trans Student Educational Resources at the age of sixteen, when I was a junior in high school. TSER began as a small project but has since grown to a national scale.
What struggles have you overcome and how?
Growing up in a rural community isn't an easy task. We had little resources in the community. On top of that, being a transgender girl exacerbated these challenges as I was targeted for being open about who I was. I faced everything from near-deadly violence to harassment from my teachers and peers alike almost every day. I still refused to step down from being only trans. Transgender people often learn how to be resilient at a young age, and this strength led me to want to make a big change for everyone.
How has your role of a woman pushed you forward or held you back?
Womanhood as a transgender person is heavily complicated. Being a trans woman, I have seen myself vilified in media, objectified in medicine, and exploited in education. Neo-Nazis and anti-transgender activists have launched campaigns against TSER and myself. Being a trans woman, I am often scapegoated for larger systemic issues. However, it is also trans women, gender nonconforming people, and street queens who started our movement in the queer/trans community. I always remind myself that womanhood is a strength and has revolutionary potential.
How do you stay positive and focused?
Constant positivity isn't necessary or healthy. The daily realities of transgender women are harsh: the majority of us experience physical violence, targeting in school, and isolation. However, imagining a future free from violence, capitalism, and racism inspires me to continue this work.
Any words of advice for future girl bosses following in your footsteps?
Think critically, think forward, and think of what freedom looks like for you.
What is one quote you stand by?
"Our armies are rising and we are getting stronger."