Because school comprises a large part of youths’ lives, it is incredibly important to make schools safe and supportive spaces for transgender and gender-variant youth. There are several steps that schools and members of school communities can take to make this happen.
In a perfect situation, a very methodical approach works best.
The school becomes aware of the existence, possible existence, or future existence of transgender and gender-variant students at the school.
All school administrators, teachers, staff, and volunteers are trained on transgender, gender-variant, and gender-diverse youth, issues they may encounter, how to support these students and their families, how to prevent and address name-calling, bullying, or other adverse behavior by students in regards to gender-variance, and how to respond to questions and concerns of students, parents, and community members.
The school completes the process to include gender identity and gender expression under the anti-discrimination clause in school policy and make structural adjustments as needed (this may include making restrooms gender-neutral or adding gender-neutral bathrooms, changing the dress code, eliminating gender-segregated classes, lines, and other activities, and adjusting policies regarding recreational teams and activities).
The school sends a letter to all school community members discussing importance of diversity, respect, and inclusiveness. The letter informs parents and community members about additions made to anti-discrimination clause and changes made to the school; provides brief discussion of transgender and gender-variant youth; reminds parents and community members of zero-tolerance policy regarding bullying and harassment and asks them to discuss this with their children; and finally, parents and community members are invited to a Gender Diversity Information Night (or something similar) providing information on transgender and gender-variant youth and addressing questions and concerns of parents and community members. (*See SAMPLE LETTER.)
Diversity in all forms including gender-identity is discussed in the classroom using age appropriate materials and teaching methods.
The school continues to address the importance of gender diversity and expression through its commitment to ongoing discussions in the classroom and in the community.
The school works to continuously ensure the support of transgender and gender-variant students by training new staff, volunteers, parents and students and by providing refresher trainings to all staff and volunteers.
**It is best for schools to address diverse gender identity and expression regardless of their student population. The earlier trainings, policies, and structural changes are completed, the easier life will be for transgender and gender-variant students at the school. Just as a school would not wait to address racism until a crisis occurred, it is best to prevent gender discrimination early on.
This approach may not be possible for all schools due to resistant staff or time-sensitive situations. If you are not sure where to begin or if the school is resistant or not taking you seriously, here are a few tips.
If you are a parent or caregiver of a gender-variant youth and need to address the school, the best way to begin is to find someone to talk to. This could be your child’s teacher, the guidance counselor, the school nurse, or the human resources department.
If you worry that you would not be comfortable advocating for your child in this situation, you might ask an advocate from your local gender diversity support organization or your local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community center to accompany you. If that is not possible, ask an advocate to write a letter to bring with you.
Make a list of your questions and concerns. Include desired solutions to the problems if you can.
Remember, it is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for your child, and this includes a space free from discrimination or harassment. It is appropriate for you to remind the school of this obligation.
Ask the school to educate themselves about gender-variant youth. Give them our website address if they do not know where to get this information.
Make a plan and timeline to address problems and concerns and to implement solutions. Keep a log of your interactions with the school staff and a log of the progress made by the school. Keep a log of concerns or incidents your child encounters.
Discuss the importance of confidentiality with the school. The school is not authorized to disclose information regarding a specific student’s gender identity or expression to other students or parents.
Some children and their families decide to change schools when their child decides to live as another gender. When meeting with potential schools, it is important to discuss everything from your child’s name and pronoun to whether they will be able to use the appropriate bathroom. Bring a list of questions and concerns and make sure they are adequately addressed before deciding on a school.
SAFETY AT SCHOOL
If you are worried about your child’s safety at school, develop a safety plan with your child. Discuss the places where your child may not feel safe such as the playground or the bathroom. Discuss concrete things your child can do in the event that they don’t feel safe or in the event that they are being bullied. This could include going to a specific adult, not playing near the monkey bars, or having another student escort them to the bathroom. It is often most effective if teachers and other adults such as playground monitors are aware of the safety concerns and safety plans. Talk to your child about how they feel at unsafe places and how they feel when they are called names or harassed. Remind your child that they do not deserve to be treated badly. Remind them why you think they are wonderful.
SAMPLE LETTER TO PARENTS AND COMMUNITY FROM SCHOOL
Dear Community Member,
Here at __________ School, we work hard to be a supportive and inclusive community, and we are committed to supporting students, families, community members and staff from a wide range of races, ethnicities, genders, cultures, abilities, economic classes, and family structures. Our diversity allows us to expand our minds, learn from each other, and support one another in a variety of ways. Our unique histories and experiences are central to building a strong community.
This year, in order to adequately support students and families in the _______ community, we have taken several steps to support gender-variant students and their families. People express their gender in a variety of ways. Gender-variant youth include youths whose identities, appearances, behaviors or interests challenge the expectations associated with their gender assigned at birth. For example, a child may have been born male but insists she is a girl. Or a child may identify as a girl but wants to wear her hair short and change her name to a “boy” name. Here at ___________, we want to encourage our students to explore their identities, whether through activities, friendships, or appearances, regardless of their gender. We believe all students deserve respect and support regardless of their gender identity and expression.
__________ School administrators, teachers, staff and volunteers have recently participated in trainings and workshops on gender identity and expression in young children. In addition, we would like to encourage parents and community members to attend a Gender Information and Discussion Event on ___(date)________. This event will provide an opportunity for parents and community members to learn more about gender expression in young children and present any question or concerns you may have.
We would also like to take this opportunity to remind the community of our no-bullying policy. _____________ does not tolerate any form of harassment, abuse, or discrimination. We encourage parents to discuss this policy with their children. Please encourage your children to talk to you, their teacher, or school staff if they encounter name-calling or any other form of inappropriate behavior.
Thank you for your participation in the _______ School community. Understanding and learning from our differences allows us as school staff, parents, and community members to provide our students with the needed skills of acceptance, respect, and celebration of difference. We are excited to deepen our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness with you.