Finding Redemption by Sharing Our Stories How Our National Day of Reading Fights Back Against Hate and Discrimination

In 2016, over 600 community members demonstrated an outpouring of support for young transgender and non-binary people in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, after a local elementary school was forced to cancel a reading of the book “I Am Jazz” due to threats made by an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group. Since then, in honor of the profound allyship demonstrated by the Mount Horeb community, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program has helped communities across the country gather in support of transgender and non-binary youth during its annual National Day of Reading: A Celebration of Stories Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Youth.

National Day of Reading invites community members to read our selected intersectional transgender and non-binary inclusive books at local schools, libraries, bookstores, places of worship and community centers. Much like it did in 2016, the event continues to foster inclusive and affirming environments, particularly for trans and non-binary youth. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the event went virtual, inviting folks to host their readings from home and have their friends and family join from their devices. In recent years, politicians such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal and then-state Sen. Sarah McBride have even joined in. The event is now also co-sponsored by the National Educational Association and the American Association of School Libraries.


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Formerly known as Jazz and Friends after the book “I Am Jazz,” which was co-written by LGBTQ+ activist and television personality Jazz Jennings about her journey as a trans child, National Day of Reading has changed its name to further involve a larger group of community members to include secondary school students and even lawmakers. And while the name of the event has changed, Cheryl Greene, senior director of the Welcoming Schools program, said “the core of the event has stayed the same.”

“Through the event, we’ve always intended to show transgender and non-binary youth that they are loved, valued and celebrated for exactly who they are,” said Greene. “In the years following the original ‘I am Jazz’ event, we changed the name to Jazz and Friends by adding additional books to showcase the diversity of the transgender and non-binary community. In 2021, we decided to extend our reach beyond elementary schools and showcase readings that middle and high school youth could engage with as well, and we changed the name to National Day of Reading.”

Since its inception, over 1,500 convenings around the country have been hosted for readings of transgender and non-binary selected books such as “Calvin” by Vanessa and JR Ford, “Julián Is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love and “They, She, He Easy as ABC” by Maya and Matthew Smith Gonzalez. Last year's National Day of Reading drew over 38,000 people, including readings in Uganda, Canada and Dubai. The event also introduced secondary stories with the poem “Notes on the Season” by Raquel Salas Rivera and “Petra and Pearl” by Lisa Bunker, which is a short story from “This Is Our Rainbow,” to include and celebrate older trans and non-binary youth.

Karen Janka, a librarian at Seaton Elementary in Washington, D.C., which has partnered with Welcoming Schools since 2000 and received the Seal of Excellence in 2023, said that Seaton has participated in National Day of Reading because the event has helped all students better understand not just LGBTQ+ students, but students of all walks of life.

“We’ve continuously looked at Welcoming Schools’ work as a benchmark to continue our work to ensure that LGBTQ+ kids feel welcomed and supported,” said Janka. “National Day of Reading is one way we can make sure all kids of all identities are included and welcomed. It has even helped us to make sure kids from other countries feel welcomed. Through this reading celebration, students find common ground with other students whose identity they may not fully understand, but they support and welcome them. Reading in general helps us understand other identities and cultures.”

Janka said that as a librarian, she can attest to the fact that reading helps students increase their sense of equity and empathy.

This year’s National Day of Reading, to be hosted on March 5, comes at a time where the LGBTQ+ community continues to live under a national state of emergency. Last year alone, over 75 anti-LGBTQ+ state bills were signed into law, most of which targeted trans and non-binary youth by outlawing access to gender-affirming care and censored LGBTQ+ inclusive educational materials. The impact of these discriminatory bills goes beyond political implications. In our 2023 LGBTQ+ Youth Report, 60% of transgender and gender-expansive youth reported screening positive for depression, while over 68% reported screening positive for anxiety.


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“Book bans across the country have limited or removed access to diverse books that show such diverse vibrant lives. Our students are being denied the right to read books with LGBTQ+ characters and families, and it sends the message that LGBTQ+ people are not valued,” said Greene. “Our National Day of Reading is a day to speak loud and proud so that our transgender and non-binary youth know they are loved and celebrated. This day is a movement to rally against the hate and stand together to celebrate and uplift transgender and non-binary youth.”

Janka said that National Day of Reading has helped students at Seaton become “warriors of inclusivity.”

“Through events like National Day of Reading, they’re better at understanding that everyone is welcomed here, and they carry that in and out of the classroom. They understand that people have chosen their pronouns, for instance, and they often help other students get acquainted with others’ pronouns. They want to make sure they feel loved and supported. Because of events like National Day of Reading, they have a genuine ability to discuss gender-identity and inclusion, and about accepting the differences of others. They know it’s important to support their LGBTQ+ friends.”

Surprisingly, Janka said, it's not the students who demonstrate the most gratitude toward Seaton Elementary for hosting National Day of Reading.

“The parents have been the ones to demonstrate the most gratitude,” said Janka. “Here at Seaton, the environment that we’ve fostered through our partnership with Welcoming Schools has been a game changer. Parents say their children are flourishing at Seaton. They say they can be themselves and feel safe here. Our parents work with other families, having conversations about why it is important to be supportive and welcoming not only for their children, but for the community at large.”

Reading LGBTQ+ inclusive books goes far beyond fostering a sense of community and belonging. It also helps to galvanize folks to take action against many forms of discrimination and hate.

  • Kids at the National Day of Reading in 2023

  • Photo Credit: Joy Asico/AP

Reading is fundamental to learning, and through that, all students can gain empathy and understanding of people who have different experiences than their own. All of this leads to a kinder environment where youth have an opportunity to thrive.

Cheryl Greene, senior director of the Welcoming Schools program

By hosting a community reading, Greene says that she hopes participants understand the value and positive impact they are having on young transgender and non-binary youth and allies, continuing to redeem our community from the ongoing onslaught of anti-trans rhetoric proliferation.

“The impact of each and every reading is that transgender and non-binary youth feel seen, valued and celebrated,” said Greene. “We hope our National Day of Reading is a starting point for educators and families to read more books and get engaged in their community to make sure schools are places where LGBTQ+ students and families can thrive.”

Host your own reading event during this year’s National Day of Reading by registering below.


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