A transgender teacher in Georgia runs a queer school. Most of her students are trans too, and activism is part of the curriculum.

Thea Canby in a dress on a front porch
Thea Canby is a trans teacher in Georgia.Thea Canby
  • Thea Canby is a trans teacher who runs a school in Georgia where most of the students are trans.

  • Canby explained to them that the state government banned gender-affirming care for young people.

  • Canby takes her students to the statehouse and protests to show them how to fight for their rights.

In March, Thea Canby, a 38-year-old trans woman who teaches at a queer-centered micro-school in Georgia, was watching a livestream of state lawmakers voting on Senate Bill 140.

The bill would strip transgender youth of their right to gender-affirming care in the state. It would also criminalize doctors who perform gender-affirming surgeries, prescribe puberty blockers, or administer hormone therapy to children and teens. That's despite the fact that the American Medical Association has told states that gender-affirming care is necessary for the mental and physical health of trans and nonbinary children.

Most of Canby's students are trans kids between 11 and 17 years old. As state lawmakers voted on her students' rights, Canby watched the live stream from her desk at the school she co-founded.

The bill passed, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law in March. Canby was reluctant to break the news to her students. But she said she had to.

"As a trans teacher of mainly trans students, I make sure they understand the state of trans rights in Georgia and understand that this bill will take away their right to gender-affirming healthcare," Canby said. She asked that Insider not name the school in order to protect the students' identities.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it's tracking more than 450 anti-LGBTQ bills in the US. And in Georgia, trans high-school students have already been banned from being on sports teams that match their gender identity.

At the micro-school, civic engagement is part of the coursework

At Canby's micro-school, students and teachers work together to create the agenda for the day. Their coursework is typically project-based, and they usually work in groups. Sometimes most of the day is spent outside, while other days students focus on an indoor project.

"The kids at our school are used to taking control over their own learning and know how to access information independently," Canby said. "They're all free to spend their time how they'd like. We just guide them towards intentionally using their time and offering them opportunities to learn or explore something they're unfamiliar with."

Canby and her co-teacher also take their students on biannual field trips to the Georgia State Capitol. She says students have come to know senators and representatives by name and even have inside jokes with some of them. The students know their way around the gold-topped legislative building, including where to find the gender-neutral bathroom.

Canby brings these trans students to the Capitol to meet with local leaders so they can describe the hate they've faced in public schools and on the streets.

"It's the ultimate civics lesson," Canby said. "My students are fighters. Not because they want to be, but because they have to be. They are watching this process, and there will be a tipping point in the future as they begin to navigate it more on their own."

She added that trans people in the South commonly experience harassment, a loss of their rights, and a loss of feeling safe when entering buildings.

The students regularly attend protests together

"At protests," Canby said, "I have stood shoulder to shoulder with my students as we have been called slurs and told that we are going to hell."

Canby described feeling protective of her students during these moments of activism, especially the young ones who aren't spared from being called derogatory terms by adults at these protests. She described one protest where she felt proud of her co-teacher, Cole, for shaming a man who was shouting demeaning names at one of their youngest students.

"Luckily, my students are loved — both here in our queer-centered micro-school and in their homes," Canby said. "They know that they deserve better. And so they fight."

Canby said she's worried that legislators are trying to erase trans history and trans people — including their futures

In early March, Michael Knowles, a conservative political commentator, argued at the Conservative Political Action Conference that "transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely." The audience applauded.

Canby said there are some allies in Georgia. In a speech in March urging lawmakers to vote against Senate Bill 140, state Rep. Karla Drenner told trans youth, "Please don't give up," adding: "This world is worth it. We need you."

Canby said that while the bill's passage is devastating, she's committed to fighting for a future where trans kids can just feel like kids.

"My goal is to help my students survive and thrive," she said.

Read the original article on Insider