MHS student honored in NPR podcast contest for work on trans rights


That’s how 17-year-old Dylan McDonald describes what it was like to hear his podcast, “Trans Kids in America,” playing on National Public Radio last week.

Dylan McDonald hopes to fight misinformation about trans health care in his podcast honored by NPR.

“I felt really proud,” he told the Current. “It was cool. And my mom was super, super excited.”

McDonald’s eight-minute podcast, an assignment for his Marblehead High School English class,  was named one of 13 finalists out of 3,300 submissions in the NPR Student Podcast Challenge.

McDonald is a trans teen and his podcast (his first ever) examines the recent surge in bans on gender-affirming health care in states across the country. He says there’s a lot of misinformation about what gender-affirming care really is.

“Some people think it’s all surgical or hormonal,” he said. “The care is mostly therapy. It’s very rare for anyone to get to surgery without a lot of therapy.”

McDonald is critical of laws that require mental health care providers to tell parents if their kids are identifying as a different gender.

“The mental health care restrictions can be really dangerous to kids who are already vulnerable,” he said.

“Kids like me are why we need to fight these anti-trans bills,” he says in the podcast. “Nobody should be stripped of their health care and bodily autonomy.”

McDonald, who is a junior at MHS, first started questioning his gender identity when he was about nine years old.

“I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I didn’t feel like a girl,” he shared.

By the time McDonald arrived at Veterans School for seventh grade, he publicly identified as a boy. 

“Some people were mean,” he said. “But most of the kids were like, ‘OK, whatever.’ No one was confused. Kids don’t really care.

“Some of the people who have been the meanest are adults — in the community and online,” he said.

McDonald talked about a recent incident where an anonymous parent criticized a Veterans School teacher by name on social media for teaching a lesson on gender and sexuality vocabulary.

“It made me feel sad, especially for LGBTQ+ kids who are dealing with it. Those kids might already know their identity and to know that there are parents out there saying those kinds of things, it’s horrifying.”

McDonald interviewed his mom, Keri, about the trans journey.

“As a mama bear, like every mama bear, you’re going to make sure that your child receives everything that they possibly have out there that’s an option to them that can make them content and happy and feel like themselves and I think that’s the most important lesson to all those people who don’t understand it,” she said in the podcast. “Put your own self in that position and what you would do for your child.”

McDonald’s teacher, Jennifer Billings, shared the news about his NPR honor with her colleagues in an email.

“Dylan was also my student during his freshman year — a very challenging time for him. He has come a long way and it’s been incredible to be a part of his journey. In the time that I’ve known him, I feel as though I’ve been the student far more often than the teacher. What a gift. “

McDonald hopes his podcast will help not just trans kids but other people who don’t understand what it’s like to struggle with your gender identity.

“I hope people, especially people who have heard misinformation, will understand. And I hope anti-trans people will hear how an actual trans person feels about it.”

You can listen to McDonald’s podcast at student honored in NPR contest for work on trans rights

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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