The Triple Intersection of Trauma, Neurodiversity & Gender Diversity – Part 3

Neurodivergent youth and young adults, including those with autism, and gender-expansive youth face more adversity and are at a greater risk of trauma, such as abuse and neglect, as well as experiences like rejection, isolation, and bullying than their peers without those differences. Those living at the intersection of both neurodivergence, and gender expansiveness are at even higher risk. Join Cassie & Kelly Smith as they explore the relationship between gender diversity and trauma in Part 3 of this series.

Guest Info: 

Kelly Smith, LICSW, has worked with families since 1986. She has a private practice specializing in attachment, trauma and loss, in Concord, New Hampshire. Her goal has been to bring passion, honor, and respect to all individuals involved with foster care and adoption. Kelly has been named Outstanding Therapist by NAMI New Hampshire and recognized by Governor Maggie Hassan for her leadership in improving the lives of people affected by mental illness and emotional disorders.

Host Info: 

Cassie Gillespie, LICSW, is a full-time faculty member in the University of Vermont’s Social Work Department, and the host of the SOCIAL WORK LENS podcast. Cassie is a former child welfare worker, and training team lead at the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership (VT-CWTP) with over 15 year’s experience serving children, youth, families, and helping professionals.


Kelly Smith (00:00):

So the place where most often we don’t feel safe or we don’t experience inclusion that can lead to trauma and even suicide and even death, is family rejection. Family acceptance is the number one factor of a child or a youth not killing themselves.

Cassie Gillespie  (00:26):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to the Social Work Lens. The Social Work lens is a podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Today we’ll be bringing you the third part in a three part series with Kelly Smith on the intersection between trauma, neurodiversity, and gender diversity. We’ll be continuing our conversation and exploring gender diversity and trauma for most of our time today. Thank you, Kelly, for coming back. We’re so happy to have you and for anyone who’s just popping in today, although if you are just popping in today, we really encourage you to go back and listen to parts one and two first. But in case there is anyone who’s just popping in, would you give us just a real quick who you are and why you’re here?

Kelly Smith (01:14):

Absolutely. thank you for the invitation. So my name’s Kelly Smith, as Cassie said, and my pronouns are she, her. I’m a licensed clinical in independent social worker, and I have been doing this amazing work for 34 years. I think I counted this morning and my areas of expertise, but I prefer to call it my areas of passion are trauma loss and grief attachment particularly at the triple intersection of trauma, neurodiversity and gender diversity.

Cassie Gillespie  (01:46):

Alright, thank you. Today we wanted to circle back to the conversation and really enter from the point where we’re talking about how gender diversity and experience with trauma can intersect.

Kelly Smith (01:58):


Cassie Gillespie  (01:59):

Where would you recommend that we start when we’re thinking about this?

Kelly Smith (02:02):

I think I’d like to start, even though if you’ve listened to part one, you’ve already heard this, but I, I don’t think we can say this enough. I’d really like for us to, to really lean into any discomfort that you may experience today in this conversation. I want you to notice and explore that discomfort, and rather than taking that discomfort and say, oh, I don’t like what Kelly and Cassie just said, or, oh, I don’t believe in that from my values or my faith community, we would rather you really just notice and explore that discomfort.

Cassie Gillespie  (02:37):

Lean into the defensiveness.

Speaker 1 (02:39):

Lean into it., ’cause We can learn stuff from our own discomfort. Our trans and non-binary youth really deserve and need us to learn from our discomfort and embrace inclusivity. There’s a lot of stuff going on in our world right now about this topic of trans non-binary youth. So, it’s an important conversation for today. Inclusivity is really about a person feeling like they matter. So when it comes down to it, we all, isn’t that what we all want for, for everybody? But we get so caught up in other things and I won’t go into the details of what we get caught up in today in our society, but, but there’s some stuff we’re getting caught up in. And you know, regardless of what side of the track you’re on or what your values are, I think we all share the same value of that a person matters.

Cassie Gillespie  (03:36):

Yeah. I Hope so.

Kelly Smith (03:37):

And that, Inclusivity is about people feeling that and knowing that.

Cassie Gillespie  (03:41):


Kelly Smith (03:41):

So that’s, I can’t start on this topic without a reminder of that and you know how I feel, but not about Brene Brown, Cassie, so am I, am I ended on Brene or am I starting on Brene because I gotta do it somewhere?

Cassie Gillespie  (03:58):

All Brene all day.

Kelly Smith (03:59):

All day.

Cassie Gillespie  (04:00):


Kelly Smith (04:00):

So for those of you, our listeners who don’t know Brene Brown, I don’t know what’s wrong. Where have you been? So, Brene Brown is out of Texas. She is a social worker. Her area’s a specialty, her passion besides pickleball, and I do have to say I’ve taken up pickleball in the last a year, also, so, you’ll notice my sticker on the front of my computer is a little bit about pickleball.

Cassie Gillespie  (04:24):

Yeah. Listeners, you can see it. But Kelly’s sitting behind a computer that has a giant pickleball sticker.

Kelly Smith (04:29):, thank you Brene, you have influenced my world. So, Brene talks about vulnerability and relationships, and that is what, what her research and writing is about. So the quote that I use every day of my work life is the quote of love and belonging are the needs of all adults and children. We are hardwired for connection. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging and connection always leads to suffering. You will see how that plays itself out for our kids who are gender diverse, wondering about their gender identity are expressing their gender differently, our non-binary youth. I hope you hear through this conversation today how Brene Brown’s quote really, really matters.

Cassie Gillespie  (05:23):

Yeah, and you know, I know we’ve started each episode this way, but I really wanna contextualize that we’re talking about the triple intersection here, right? So it’s not just gender diverse youth or gender diverse youth who’ve experienced trauma, but it’s a triple intersection between youth who’ve experienced trauma, gender diverse youth, and neurodiverse youth. So tell me a little bit, Kelly, about why it’s important to see those two things together, the neurodiversity and the gender diversity.

Kelly Smith (05:50):

What we know from research, and we’re learning a lot more every single day. There’s some good writings happening. The numbers, we know as of right now about one, one in four or 25% of our trans non-binary youth are also neurodivergent. So the intersections are happening.

Cassie Gillespie  (06:12):


Kelly Smith (06:13):

They cross over. I can’t wake up if I’m trans and neurodivergent, I can’t wake up and separate them out.

Cassie Gillespie  (06:19):


Kelly Smith (06:20):

And what we know about, as we’ve already heard in episode two, there are so many traumatic experiences that are neurodivergent youth experience. So then let’s play that out with our gender diverse youth.

Cassie Gillespie  (06:35):


Kelly Smith (06:35):

And I would say the primary traumatic experiences they’re experiencing on a daily basis are bullying bullying, exploitation excluded unless there’s a community within their school or community within their community to say, hey, join us.

Cassie Gillespie  (06:58):


Kelly Smith (07:01):

We are you, we get you, join us. but even within a community, so let’s say there’s 10 non-binary trans youth in a school of 500 students, they may have their 10, but those 10 are, are still going to be excluded and bullied and made fun of. And for our trans youth, you know, there’s so many aspects of it. So, you know, trans, it’s this concept of identity. So identity is what’s in our brain.

Cassie Gillespie  (07:29):


Kelly Smith (07:29):

Identity is, I am trans. I am, I was born. There’s language of saying I was born as a boy, but that language isn’t even correct anymore. ’cause We’re evolving. It really is, I was assigned male at birth.

Cassie Gillespie  (07:50):


Kelly Smith (07:51):

But I’m four and I know that isn’t who I am. So in the core of whom I am, and in my brain, my identity is I’m a girl.

Cassie Gillespie  (08:00):


Cassie Gillespie  (08:04):

And then how do I express that? I express that through hair and nails and makeup and names and posters and, and how I express myself as I go through the world. So in some places, like at school, maybe I can express myself pretty freely and I really feel fun and comfortable and confident at school to, to be female and to, to wear, to express myself more in a femme way. But I also know as soon as I go home, I’ve gotta put that sweatshirt on and those jeans on and that basketball shirt on, because I know as soon as my dad gets home, there’s the expectation that my expression is male.

Cassie Gillespie  (08:50):


Kelly Smith (08:51):

And that I identify as a male. So that is the trauma, the trauma stress, the trauma experience, the fear that I can experience as a trans youth when my worlds aren’t connected and when there isn’t acceptance. And that’s the greatest traumatic experience that our kids have, is that family rejection. The dead naming, what that is is my parents.

Cassie Gillespie  (09:18):

Define that for us?

Kelly Smith (09:18):

Yeah. My parents gave me a name at birth and my name is Kelly. But as I have become more comfortable and identify with who I am and experiencing and practicing and playing with, how I express that identity, Kelly doesn’t work for me anymore. So now I go by Jonah, but when I go home, oh my goodness, my dad only calls me Kelly.

Cassie Gillespie  (09:45):


Kelly Smith (09:45):

But every time someone calls me Kelly, that I’m out to, it is a stab in my heart. It is an absolute rejection of who I am by one of the most important people in my life, my dad. So the traumatic experiences that our trans youth can experience is the family rejection, the dead naming and or just denial of that gender expression period, which is the example I gave of how I can express myself at school, but as soon as I go home, I gotta put on that male,

Cassie Gillespie  (10:19):


Kelly Smith (10:19):

That male wardrobe again. And that happens on a daily basis. I go to art class and how does that art teacher see me, include me, honor me, I go to my math class, so every class, every principal, every lunch lady, every time I walk down the hallway, I’m worried and wondering what’s gonna happen and who’s gonna say something.

New Speaker (10:44):


New Speaker (10:45):

So that’s the traumatic experiences that I can experience, or our trans youth can experience. Cutoff relationships, isolation, discrimination, homelessness. Probably 40% of our 18 to 24-year-old homeless youth are L-G-B-T-Q-I-A. That’s a lot of youth that are homeless for the only reason of their gender or their spand or their sexuality.

Cassie Gillespie  (11:16):

Can we pause here just to kind of separate gender expression.

Kelly Smith (11:18):


Cassie Gillespie  (11:18):

With sexual orientation?

Kelly Smith (11:19):


Cassie Gillespie  (11:20):

Because I think especially in this political moment, I’m pausing like how deep to get into this, but I, I wanna keep going. I think in this political moment, sexual orientation is at times completely conflated with gender expression and identity and then both kind of facets of someone’s identity are, are weaponized as different ways to exclude people. So I’m wondering if you’d be willing to just share a little bit about how those things are different.

Kelly Smith (11:46):

Absolutely. And again, as I said in episode one, everyone’s story about this is different. Yeah. But I’ll give you and our listeners an explanation through my lens and I, I’m still learning, right? I am, I am turning 60 next week. So my learning has really needed to be significant learning and I’m so excited and proud to have had the honor to be able to do so, but I’m also married to a woman, so, okay. So I am in a romantic relationship and a physical relationship with a woman and that is, that’s orientation. Okay, and that is what I feel in my heart. I feel a romantic feeling towards a person of the same sex. Identity and gender identity is who am I from a gender perspective. So, in my brain and in my soul and everything in my core, I am a gender. So I am a woman and I, I am a woman.

Kelly Smith (12:53):

So that’s my identity, gender identity. And as a woman, then I am romantically attracted to another woman. That’s my orientation.

Cassie Gillespie  (13:03):


Kelly Smith (13:04):

And then expression, so gender expression, and we talked about this in our first episode, gender expression is how do I choose, and we all have gender expression y’all. You may think you don’t, but you do.

Cassie Gillespie  (13:17):


Kelly Smith (13:17):

Gender expression is when we get outta bed and we think about our day, we think about the weather, and we think about how do I wanna, how do I wanna dress today? Do I feel fancy and do I wanna put a suit and tie on or a bow tie on? My son looks fantastic and a bow tie, but he doesn’t wear a bow tie every day. You know, most days he’s got a golf shirt on and a pair of jeans. And then on other days he’s got jeans and hiking boots on. And today it’s snowy here in Vermont. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s really snowy here.

Cassie Gillespie  (13:47):


Kelly Smith (13:48):

So I got these goofy looking boots on and some pants that I can tuck into the boots and a sweatshirt and, and that’s all good.

Cassie Gillespie  (13:56):


Kelly Smith (13:56):

Because I can decide, I dunno if I can cuss on this, but I’m a grown woman and I get to decide how I wanna dress today.

Cassie Gillespie  (14:04):


Kelly Smith (14:05):

How I want to express that gender today.

Cassie Gillespie  (14:08):

Well, and it’s interesting ’cause I think people think about how they get up and dress in the morning as personal expression, but they don’t always contextualize it, in the prism of gender, you know? Right. But it’s absolutely driving in how we think of ourselves and present ourselves. Yeah.

Kelly Smith (14:25):

And if we’re more gender fluid, then we are really comfortable being able to go in any, in any way with a expression. Yeah. And part of that is a, a cultural context that we have grown up in and what our society says that women and men should look like.

Cassie Gillespie  (14:45):

So, I really appreciate you kind of pausing there to, to give a little bit of extra definition about how these various identities function in terms of what they mean. I also wanna share that while we will talk about sexual orientation and gender expression as two different things, people experience discrimination for both of them. And sometimes how do I wanna say this, the people who may be engaging in discriminatory actions are not able to see the difference between orientation and expression. Does that feel correct to say?

Kelly Smith (15:17):


Cassie Gillespie  (15:18):


Kelly Smith (15:18):

Oh, I find that true in so many ways. Race,

Cassie Gillespie  (15:21):


Kelly Smith (15:22):

Gender, sexuality. So yes.

Cassie Gillespie  (15:24):

And here’s where intersectionality, I mean, not that it ever left this conversation, but it comes right back in. You know, you could identify as a heterosexual trans youth, as a homosexual, trans youth, as a cisgendered person. I mean, there’s just so many ways that you can play with different components of your identity and put them together but the outside world may still, you may experience discrimination and trauma from moving in a world that has these dominant identities, especially if you’re not holding any of them, and I just wanna check, all of that.

Kelly Smith (15:55):

Right. Absolutely. That’s absolutely true. And who’s to say who is, right?

Cassie Gillespie  (16:00):


Kelly Smith (16:00):

Right. And again, it comes back to inclusivity is about a person matters, and let’s be curious about ourselves. And do I dress a certain way because that’s the expectation of how I dress or if I really, I really just wanna put on a pair of holy Levi’s and a sweatshirt. Oh, but that’s not what, you know, a woman wears,

Cassie Gillespie  (16:25):

Or a professional woman

Kelly Smith (16:26):

Or a professional woman wears, like,

Cassie Gillespie  (16:29):

yeah, yeah.

Kelly Smith (16:30):

Just let’s just be curious and figure this out for ourselves and then be inclusive and let other people figure it out for themselves.

Cassie Gillespie  (16:38):

I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s a great lens to bring to this. One of the questions I do have though, and you know, I’ll be transparent, I, I know some of the answer <laugh> to this question already, but I think some of the ways this intersectionality is framed is this idea that it’s not that common. So do you have any numbers you can offer us about some of the ways we’re seeing this present in youth right now?

Kelly Smith (17:00):

Absolutely, and again, numbers really only come from courageous and brave people.

Cassie Gillespie  (17:07):


Kelly Smith (17:08):

Who are saying, Hey, I wanna be counted. And by raising my hand and saying, hey, I want to be counted. There’s great risk in that, but I have the utmost respect for all of us who are raising our hands and saying, hey, I wanna be counted here. But among high school students in the United States, 1.2% of teens identify as transgender. Two to 9% of teens experience some level of gender diversity. So, I wanna talk about that for a second.

Cassie Gillespie  (17:35):


Kelly Smith (17:36):

’cause we hear adults and we hear teachers say, well, one day they’re this, and another day they’re this and can they just make up their minds? So, so really it must not be an issue because they can’t even make up their minds.

Cassie Gillespie  (17:48):


Kelly Smith (17:48):

And what I wanna say to our listeners who are thinking that way or who have heard that is gender identity is something, as I’ve said before, it’s, it’s in their core. It’s, it’s in their brain, it’s, it’s who they are. But when you’ve been raised in a home and you were smacked on the tail end when you were a baby, when you came out and they said, ah, you’re a boy, there were specific social context and cultural things that happened within that family.

Cassie Gillespie  (18:17):

You got trucks

Kelly Smith (18:19):

You got trucks, and you wore blue.

Cassie Gillespie  (18:20):


Kelly Smith (18:21):

And as a person, a young person, whether they’re nine or 15, while they are noticing that this doesn’t feel right for them, which is that identity, and they’re exploring this for themselves and realizing in the core of who they are is they’re a girl, they then have to figure this out. Because for the last nine years and the last 90 centuries, we had expectations of what it meant to be a boy and have a boy. So now this boy is identifying as a girl, because that’s who they are in their core, but they haven’t been a girl. So now they’re figuring out, or they haven’t been allowed to be a girl, they now are figuring out what does that mean for me? So I wanna play around with names. You know, my parents chose my name when I wasn’t even born, I was still in a belly and they were picking a name. Well, now guess what? I wanna pick my name. So I picked Jonah. Yeah. And I like it, but not really. So then the next month I’m picking Johanes. So that’s where we see kids playing around with changing, exploring, being curious. It’s not that they’re flip-flopping.

Cassie Gillespie  (19:40):


Kelly Smith (19:41):

They’re figuring it out and, you know, what does it feel like in my body to wear, you know, leggings or tight jeans or a skirt or boots or whatever it is. And I’m learning what feels comfortable for me and how I wanna present myself now, that I get to choose to present myself in this way because I am comfortable with my identity and I’m figuring out how to express that identity that I’ve always known I was, but didn’t know how to express it.

Cassie Gillespie  (20:11):


Kelly Smith (20:11):

So, so that’s where we’re seeing a lot of this, what I hear adults say all the time, they’re flip-flopping. They don’t even know themselves. So two to 9% of teens are experiencing some level of that diversity and expansion.

Speaker 2 (20:28):

And just to ask a clarifying question, I would imagine there’s lots of people, especially in non-binary folks, people who reject the idea that you have to be either male or female, or that they are male or female presenting only who may, you know, in the language, in the parlance of those parents, flip flopping might flip flop forever. Right. That’s how they express their gender.

Kelly Smith (20:50):


Cassie Gillespie  (20:51):


Kelly Smith (20:51):

Again, based on the weather and what I’m doing today and what kind of mood I’m in.

Cassie Gillespie  (20:56):


Kelly Smith (20:58):

1.6 million, and I shared this before, 13 plus year old identify as transgender. That’s lot of 13-year-old y’all.

Cassie Gillespie  (21:06):


New Speaker (21:07):

30% of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQI plus compared to 11% not in foster care. So, I am passionate as I know you are also Cassie about those kiddos. So they are, our foster kids are already vulnerable. We know they’ve experienced trauma because of abuse and neglect findings. And 30% of them are also identifying as L-G-B-T-Q-I-A. So that makes them even more vulnerable for abandonment and placement changes and everything about it.

Cassie Gillespie  (21:43):


Kelly Smith (21:43):

This foster parent said, yeah, I’ll take Joey, 7-year-old little boy as you know, in my foster home for the next nine to 12 months. But whoa, Joey now has decided to be gay and trans. Yeah. No, I’m not doing that one.

Cassie Gillespie  (21:59):


Kelly Smith (22:00):

So the vulnerability there is intense. 1.2 million non-binary L-G-B-T-Q adults in the us again, this number we keep coming back to 24, 20 5% of trans or neurodivergent and younger generations are increasing questioning gender identity and or identifying transgender and gender diverse. The courage, that our younger generations have to be able to say, heck with this, I’m gonna figure this out.

Cassie Gillespie  (22:30):

Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah

Kelly Smith (22:31):

Because this doesn’t feel right.

Cassie Gillespie  (22:33):


Kelly Smith (22:34):

And good for them.

Cassie Gillespie  (22:35):


Kelly Smith (22:36):

Good for them.

Cassie Gillespie  (22:37):

No, it’s incredible. So that number where we have this kind of intersectional piece between neurodiversity and gender diversity I know just from seeing you train, from seeing your full training at a conference, that you’re able to show some videos that share the experience of neurodiverse kiddos and youth who talk about the fact that they kind of weren’t believed about their gender diversity when they tried to share that information. And we’ll link to those videos in the show notes. But can you share just a little bit about that specific nuance in this intersectional challenge?

Kelly Smith (23:15):

Well, there’s a couple things that happen. So our kids who are neurodiverse or other people may say they’re autistic, okay. What the mental health world might say, or parents or doctors may say, oh, they have autism. This is just a phase they’re going through. Kind of like Thomas the train. This is another one of their phases. Or they’ll say, you know, they have high level support needs. There is no way they could understand gender identity. They can’t even understand social cues and eye contact.

Cassie Gillespie  (23:50):


Kelly Smith (23:50):

So how could they ever understand their gender identity? And it’s just so not fair and accurate. And…

Cassie Gillespie  (23:59):


Kelly Smith (24:00):

In some ways I find our neurodivergent youth brilliant, as I’ve already said, and resourceful. And they’re so often in their heads thinking about lots of things, and the wheels are just turning nonstop. And because of their sensory issues, they’re trying on different clothing and things fit better and don’t feel better in some ways. I find our neurodivergent youth can be more aware of gender, what feels good.

Cassie Gillespie  (24:29):


Kelly Smith (24:30):

what feels good to put on my body, what I like to, what I like. I like that look when I have that on. And who is to say that someone with autism or someone with neurodiversity doesn’t have the capacity to know if they feel right in a male or female body.

Cassie Gillespie  (24:51):


Kelly Smith (24:52):

That’s just weird. And then likewise, are people who are gender diverse, you know, they get labeled as Yeah, well, they’re just changing their clothes every other day and, you know, picking a new name, name of the flavor every day. So they obviously aren’t socially aware and 24% of them have autism, so they can’t be making these decisions like this. So I think the medical world is saying no, if you have a diagnosis, we’re not gonna let you make decisions

Cassie Gillespie  (25:23):

About like gender affirming

Kelly Smith (25:24):

Care, gender affirming care. And people make this huge assumption that gender affirming care means we’re running off to the hospital and doing surgery.

Cassie Gillespie  (25:33):


Kelly Smith (25:33):

Or we’re running off and doing hormones and gender affirming care And gender acceptance starts way before that.

Cassie Gillespie  (25:43):


Kelly Smith (25:44):

And it’s about being curious and clothing and names and favorite colors,

Cassie Gillespie  (25:52):


Kelly Smith (25:53):

pronouns, pictures on my wall, stuffed animals I wanna play with. And then it will go to clothing and binding and wearing more specific clothing that’s more in fitting with the gender that, that I am. But I think as parents and as clinicians, when we hear a kid is gender expressive or trying to figure out their gender or identity, parents in particular will just go black and white. We are not doing that. And we are never doing surgery, so don’t even bring it up in this family. And it’s like the 7-year-old, we’re just talking about different color clothing.

Cassie Gillespie  (26:31):


Kelly Smith (26:31):

And can I have a different name?

Cassie Gillespie  (26:33):


Kelly Smith (26:34):

But we freak out. So,

Cassie Gillespie  (26:36):

So listening to this, I’m wondering about sort of physical places and are there safer places to be supporting these youth?

Kelly Smith (26:45):

Yeah, I think I, let me focus first on what’s not safe typically.

Cassie Gillespie  (26:50):


Cassie Gillespie  (26:50):

Yeah, that makes sense.

Kelly Smith (26:51):

And then we, our listeners can maybe start to think about, oh yeah, I never thought about that not being safe. And how might I flip that? So the place where most often we don’t feel safe or we don’t experience inclusion that can lead to trauma and even suicide and even death, is family rejection.

Cassie Gillespie  (27:11):

Oh, wow.

Kelly Smith (27:12):

You all Family acceptance is the number one factor of a child or a youth not killing themselves.

Cassie Gillespie  (27:22):

And you know, we just did this three part episode series on youth suicide, and it is, it is officially a public health crisis right now.

Kelly Smith (27:30):

So family rejection is huge. And I’ll talk a little bit more about family rejection and some numbers about that, but peer rejection obviously, also, bullying, violence, discrimination in school, whether it’s the bathrooms or the locker rooms or the sports teams or just what do teachers and peers say to Joey at school?

Cassie Gillespie  (27:54):


Kelly Smith (27:55):

I am not calling you Jonah. That is not your name, or kids making fun of them. Harassment in school, harassment in the community. The bus,

Cassie Gillespie  (28:03):

the school bus.

Kelly Smith (28:04):

Oh, the school bus. Okay, everybody go back. All of our listeners go back. If you rode a school bus, especially in middle school, the school bus. So imagine being on the school bus <laugh> and you are trans non-binary, or you’re just even gender expressive. The school bus, anti-trans policies, schools, politicians, churches, there’s all kinds of things happening with trans policy, healthcare and accessibility… Applications…. Let, let me get on the topic of applications, but Cassie, you will have to pull me back soon because I could go off on applications.

Cassie Gillespie  (28:45):

Okay, give us just a taste

Kelly Smith (28:48):

Resource, 16-Year-Old goes to wherever, market Basket, dunking Donuts, home Depot. I’m not getting any cutbacks for these places and they fill out an application and it says gender little box pulls down male female, what makes it even worse is unknown.

Cassie Gillespie  (29:04):

Yeah. <laugh>,

Kelly Smith (29:06):

what do you mean male, female, unknown. So how’s my kid supposed to answer that question?

Cassie Gillespie  (29:11):


Kelly Smith (29:12):

And then we go to the doctor’s office, thank goodness at Dartmouth we’re doing some really great stuff and I hope you’re here doing it in Vermont too, where we’ve got dropdowns now.

Cassie Gillespie  (29:20):

Yeah, we do.

Kelly Smith (29:20):

So we can go. But, so,

Cassie Gillespie  (29:22):

But this is very regionalized and if you’re listening from a part of the country, especially a part of the country that’s putting forth all these, you know, anti-trans and anti L-G-B-T-Q-I-A bills, I would imagine you’re not having a dropdown.

Speaker 1 (29:36):

No. You’re a male female or you’re unknown. So, healthcare inaccessibility and the list just continues and continues, sports teams I, I mentioned it briefly and I won’t go down this road, but our faith communities… I grew up in the faith community. I am a woman of faith. But I can tell you our faith communities have caused some hurt.

Cassie Gillespie  (30:01):


Kelly Smith (30:01):

To our L-G-B-T-Q-I-A youth. So there’s, there’s some places that we need to work on people feeling safer.

Cassie Gillespie  (30:09):

Yeah, For sure. Should we talk more about family rejection in particular? Because I think it might be surprising to people to hear that it’s real, you know, all of the places you just listed, the school bus, your faith community, the lunchroom, the doctor’s office filling out a form, right? All of these places can be threatening and traumatic in different ways, but that really, it’s your family’s acceptance or rejection that makes the difference. Do you wanna share a little more about that?

Kelly Smith (30:37):

Yeah, there is some, so much to say about this and I we’re creating some new trainings around this and the Trevor Project has some stuff on family acceptance and there’s a whole community called the Family Acceptance Project. So family acceptance is, is about, you know, your kiddo comes to you, which takes a lot of courage and says, dad, you know, I’m a girl or dad, I wanna wear pink. I want Barbies, I don’t want hot wheels. I want the frozen puzzle. I don’t want the Tonka trunk puzzle. All those things and how that parent responds right there in that moment, the first time it’s uttered when they’re four and says, no daddy, I want the pink tutu.

Cassie Gillespie  (31:26):


Kelly Smith (31:26):

no daddy, I don’t want that for my birthday. I want this.

Cassie Gillespie  (31:32):

Because when they’re that little, they do tell you, you know?

Kelly Smith (31:35):

Yeah, yeah, and for a daddy or a mommy or a Grammy or any parent to right in that moment sa,y not in my house or, that’s getting sent back to Target, or No, we’re playing one Tonka trains. We’re not wearing tutus and hula hoops. That is the beginning of family rejection. That’s the beginning of the message of you can’t be who you are here and you have to live up to what our expectations are. And then it plays itself out more and maybe the kid has shared less or masked more, or won worn the pink shirt under the black sweatshirt and all the things that we do. But at some point for the adolescent, the young adult, to be able to say, mom, you know, I’m non-binary, I’m trans, I wanna be called Jonah. And that is a moment in time that you will never get back.

Cassie Gillespie  (32:32):


Kelly Smith (32:32):

Because that is a moment where your kid has been sitting on this with fear and begging for you to have the right response and really trusting you to have the right response. If they’ve come and told you, and one of you says, not in my house, and the other one of you tucks you in a bedtime and says, don’t worry, I’ll talk to him. I’ve got your, I’ve got your back. But don’t do it when you’re around Dad.

Cassie Gillespie  (32:59):


Kelly Smith (32:59):

Or don’t you dare tell your grandparents you’re gonna have to mask it or No, not in our house and there’s the door.

Cassie Gillespie  (33:08):


Kelly Smith (33:09):

And no, you can’t take your dresser and bookcase with you. And what we know about low family acceptance is very much correlated with high levels of depression for these youth, substance misuse is three and a half times more likely, suicidal thoughts and attempts are absolutely there.

Kelly Smith (33:30):

If I’m rejected by the people who are supposed to love me and accept me the most, if I’m rejected by the people who created me or created a home for me and they reject me and they don’t want me, then really, what do I have? And, you know, risky sexual behavior, and what we know is that L-G-B-T-Q youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide and at least one 13 to 14-year-old L-G-B-T-Q-I attempt suicide every 45 seconds. Now Cassie and I have been here for hours.

Cassie Gillespie  (34:06):


Kelly Smith (34:06):

And for one 13 to 14-year-old youth to attempt suicide every 45 seconds in our country. It’s, this is life and death.

Cassie Gillespie  (34:17):


Kelly Smith (34:17):

So we have to take this seriously.

Cassie Gillespie  (34:20):

I was also just reading about really increased and inflated rates of eating disorders.

Kelly Smith (34:26):


Cassie Gillespie  (34:26):

amongst youth who are L-G-B-T-Q. And although on the surface that may not sound like it connects fully with your point around life and death, you know, youth who are struggling with eating disorders, like it’s, it’s an incredibly the morbidity rates are so high.

Kelly Smith (34:41):


Cassie Gillespie  (34:41):

So it really, there’s all these extra ways in which they’re vulnerable and I think which we’re seeing kind of reflected back at us, our society’s lack of acceptance coming out in all of these really scary statistics.

Kelly Smith (34:54):

Eating disorder, homelessness, suicide,

Cassie Gillespie  (34:57):


Kelly Smith (34:57):

Depression, substance use disorder. And again, if my parents reject me, the pain of that, well, how do I deal with pain? How do I deal with traumas that have happened to me? I can self-medicate.

Cassie Gillespie  (35:10):


Kelly Smith (35:12):

And we’re already in a substance use disorder crisis in our country, so we, we really do need to take this seriously.

Cassie Gillespie  (35:20):

And I want to just acknowledge that if you’re a listener right now who identifies as trans non-binary and neurodiverse that we also need to make space to celebrate trans joy. Right?

Kelly Smith (35:33):


Cassie Gillespie  (35:34):

And joy in all of these areas, because what we wanna to really target, I think, in sharing this information is making sure that people are aware of how high the stakes are here, so that we can then kind of center and lean in, you know?

Kelly Smith (35:48):

Yes. And I think we, you know, binary, straight neurotypical people have so much to learn from you who identify differently than us. And I feel like the learning curve is just taken off in really positive ways. And I’m so proud to know you and your courage for coming forward and giving us old social worker people the opportunity to grow and learn. And you know, might we, might we raise that voice and that flag for you and, you know, how do we show up? So again, we, we see our gender divergent people as amazing and unique and strong and creative and courage, courageous and funny and resourceful, wanna be loved and accepted. And then, so what do we do? What do we, what do we do? How do we show up for those individuals and we show respect <laugh>, we must believe and validate, it might be changing how they express might be changing, but you just go with it and you believe, and you validate and you demonstrate you’re an ally.

Kelly Smith (37:00):

Well, how do you do that? You put your pronouns on your zoom link.

Cassie Gillespie  (37:04):


Kelly Smith (37:05):

you identify yourself as my pronouns are. What are your pronouns? You’ve got a sticker on your coffee cup, you’ve got a pride button on your coat, you ask somebody, hey, when is, when’s the pride prayed this month? Or What month is pride? You just be curious compassionate, kind, and please use proper pronouns and names. And if you mess up, you just say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jonas.

Cassie Gillespie  (37:33):


Kelly Smith (37:34):

I gotcha. But we, we, we are the ones that have to show up for them. And I have another quote, so you tell me when it’s time to, to share another kind of inspirational quote Cassie. But I feel really passionate about how can we walk alongside and be there for, for our youth?

Cassie Gillespie  (37:52):

Yeah. Yeah. Let’s hear it.

Kelly Smith (37:55):

So I feel for us as adults particularly as social workers, that our task is to provide a light in the darkness for those who have lost faith, that people will protect them, or that they have the basic human right for that protection. The restoration of hope to a terrified child is a calling. And we must aspire to be our best selves to do it justice.

Cassie Gillespie  (38:20):


Kelly Smith (38:20):

And that’s that, you know, my career is ending soon, you know, in six or seven years. And how do I wanna leave, leave this career that I have so loved for 34 years? I wanna leave it in a way of having hope for our younger generation and being curious and continuing to learn with them and from them and really just holding out hope for them, because they’re the ones taking it.

Cassie Gillespie  (38:48):

Yeah, For sure.

Kelly Smith (38:49):

I, I’m, I’m, I don’t know, gonna wear my jeans and sweatshirts soon, every day in seven years for retirement.

Cassie Gillespie  (38:55):


Kelly Smith (38:56):

So we’ve gotta, we’ve gotta leave this place a better place for our, for our youth

Cassie Gillespie  (39:00):

Yeah. And I mean, I’ll just say kind of in closing here, like Kelly and I have different identities and some different carry some different identities, but also both carry some privileged and dominant identities. But part of the reason, ’cause as we’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking how it is interesting right, that although we all have neurodiversity, neither of us carry a diagnosis that requires high support needs. Right?

Kelly Smith (39:24):


Cassie Gillespie  (39:25):

And both of us are presenting as cis women does that.

Kelly Smith (39:27):


Cassie Gillespie  (39:28):

Double check <laugh> making no assumptions and being curious.

Kelly Smith (39:32):

You have to ask. Right?

Speaker 2 (39:33):

Yep. And so, you know, as I’m listening to us, I’m thinking, ah, should we have even had more diversity present in this conversation? And then, and yes, the answer is always yes.

Kelly Smith (39:42):


Cassie Gillespie  (39:42):

But I’m also reminded that part of the reason I asked you is I had never heard anyone present on this topic at a conference about how these different factors and facets intersect. And so I think part of where we can move forward too is have people, you know, who are presenting either from a lens of privilege or of lived experience on all of these different topics and

Kelly Smith (40:04):


Cassie Gillespie  (40:05):

And continue to learn From each other and learn how to show up and then how to support and, you know.

Kelly Smith (40:09):

Yeah. And we, on our project ATTAIN, which is our five year grant with Samson and CTSN which your listeners will have access to a four part series, training series. My co-presenter is Micah and they are trans, has experienced trauma, has autism. Micah will say they have, they are autistic and they are my co-presenter.

Cassie Gillespie  (40:36):


Kelly Smith (40:37):

And it has been an incredible joy and opportunity to learn from Micah and co-present with Micah.

Cassie Gillespie  (40:43):


Cassie Gillespie  (40:43):

Thank you.

Kelly Smith (40:44):

Thank you.

Cassie Gillespie  (40:46):

Anything else you want to say in closing?

Kelly Smith (40:48):

Brene Brown,

Cassie Gillespie  (40:49):


Kelly Smith (40:50):

love and belonging.

Cassie Gillespie  (40:52):

Alright, thank you.

Kelly Smith (40:54):

Thank you.

Speaker 2 (40:58):

The Social Work Lens is produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our theme music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop. And our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-House administrative production assistant Emma Baird. For the Social Work Lens, I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.

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