‘I’m just me.’ A non-binary second grader in Allegheny County shares her experiences with identity and acceptance.

R, a second grader at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in the Bethel Park School District, is like her classmates in many ways. She loves cheetahs, jumping in big piles of leaves and watching the Lego Avengers save the world from bad guys. Science is her favorite class, especially learning about weather, as she hopes to become a meteorologist one day. 

R, whose first initial is used to protect her privacy, also identifies as non-binary. “I'm not a girl, not a boy,” R said. “I’m just me.”

GLAAD, a national nonprofit that promotes LGBTQ acceptance in media, defines non-binary as a term used by individuals “who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman.” Non-binary is different from transgender, which GLAAD defines as people “whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.”

Because most research on population does not include non-binary as a gender category, it is hard to say how many Americans overall identify as non-binary.

young person drawing

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A few dozen students sat at long cafeteria tables, each with a blank paper figure in front of them. They would spend the next hour decorating the figures in a way that represents their identities. 

“The word of the day is ‘identity,’” art teacher Lauren Rowe said, giving directions to the West Mifflin Area High School students. 

The activity was part of a November joint meeting with the school’s gay-straight alliance [GSA] and the  Stand Together Team mental health club. After the meeting, the figures were displayed in the hallways. To protect students’ identities, there were no names attached to them. “We want our school to see how we proudly identify ourselves,” said Rowe, who also serves as the Stand Together Team faculty sponsor.

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Compelling personal stories
told by the people living them. Editor’s note: At PublicSource, we believe in giving a platform to voices not often heard or consulted. That's why we asked teenagers in the Pittsburgh region to tell us what matters to them and write about it. We will feature their stories as an occasional series. The nation’s conversation about mental illness and school shootings has changed the way I listen to my classmates.