Supporting transgender students in schools
Monday, October 07, 2019
In an Education Week article last month, author Madeline Will reported on what happens when school is a battleground for transgender kids. Will referenced research that “has found that compared to their non-transgender peers, transgender youth are more likely to miss school, have lower grades, and view their school climate negatively.”
Will empowered teachers to take action in their classrooms to provide support, even in instances when schools cannot. She writes, “Teachers can start by challenging gender norms in their classrooms and avoiding gendered language, such as calling students ‘boys and girls.’” And she encourages teachers to create space in their classroom for students to share their pronouns.
For school principals looking for a place to start to address this issue at the school- or district-level, read on.
Several years ago, the school board in the district where I work adopted a very progressive policy in an effort to extend equal and fair treatment to all students in all aspects of the district’s affairs, regardless of sexual orientation.
This Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students Policy outlined the steps the District would take to support students with their render identity, which is defined in the policy as “a person’s deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth.” The policy went on to provide the following definitions:
- Transgender describes people whose gender identity is different from their gender assigned at birth.
- Gender expression refers to the way a person expresses gender, such as clothing, hairstyles, activities, or mannerisms.
- Gender nonconforming describes people whose gender expression differs from stereotypical expectations, such as “feminine” boys, “masculine” girls, and those who are perceived as androgynous.
The policy provides specific guidelines for schools with regards to privacy, confidentiality, and official records; names/pronouns to be used; gender-segregated activities; restroom, locker room, and changing room accessibility; physical education classes and intramural sports; interscholastic athletics, dress code, discrimination/harassment, and student transitions. The policy delineates between how these matters are to be handled at both the elementary as well as the secondary level.
Since the policy’s inception back in 2015, we have had a large number of students in my school come forward looking for support in some way. As an internal management system, our school developed this form to provide information to the appropriate adults in the building who are supporting the student through the process. The form has proved to be an invaluable resource.
The school has also provided support to staff and students on this topic in the following ways:
For Staff:The school regularly provides professional development on this topic. Most of the training has been provided through GLESN New Hampshire, an organization that according to its wesbite seeks to “end discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and to prompt LGBT cultural inclusion and awareness in K-12 schools.”
For Students: The school endorses a student club known simply as “Diversity Club.” This club, overseen by two staff members, provides a forum and a space for students to have discussions, raise awareness for, and engage in activities around gender identity and gender expression in the school and the greater community. The school’s Diversity Club is open to all and is considered to be one of the more popular and highly-attended club.
Reflecting back as I have watched our school develop policies, procedures, and supports for students to determine their gender identify and engage in gender expression over the last five years, I am proud of the work we have done. Our early work has led to a change in our culture, which is the ultimate form of implementation.
Whether or not to support students on this topic is simply a nonissue at my school. Our real work, moving forward, is to continue to provide support and guidance to individuals who may, for one reason or another, struggle to understand or accept our policies and practices due to their own personal beliefs on the topic. This will continue to be a focus at my school, until such time that it becomes the “norm” for all.
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