A 2013 report by the Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network revealed that a whopping 85 percent of all LGBT youth experience verbal bullying in schools. But for transgender students —regularly forced to use bathrooms that don’t correspond with their gender and regularly referred to by incorrect gender pronouns — schools can seem even more unsupportive and stressful. Luckily, the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (ISSA) has concrete suggestions on how to make schools more welcoming to transgender students, even as early as kindergarten.
ISSA says that transforming school culture for transgender and gender non-conforming students begins with recognizing students’ needs for school inclusion and engaging their voices to help create policies. Most battles over trans-rights in schools have focused on their right to use bathrooms and locker rooms, but the trans school experience goes much deeper than bodily functions. It involves their entire identity, the denial of which can be really traumatic for young trans people.
Rowan Collins, the Education Coordinator at the LGBTQ Academy with The Gay Alliance located in Rochester, NY says that when schools call about trans issues, he always asks, “Have you spoken to the student about what they want?” Because school districts often overlook trans-inclusive student policies, including student voices can help ensure that trans and gender-variant students get treated with dignity and respect. Since schools sports are often gendered, for example, student input can help the schools create a positive atmosphere where trans-students take part rather than feel excluded.
In most schools, changing a student’s gender in the school roster legally requires parental consent, something that’s problematic seeing as most students come out to their schools before they come out to their parents. Schools then find themselves in the position of trying to respect the student’s gender-identity without compromising their confidentiality.
ISSA Policy and Advocacy Director Owen Daniel-McCarter suggests schools form an administrative Gender Support Team where students can meet with administrators and submit requests for preferred pronoun, name, and gender designation within the school. This creates a paper trail that justifies later changes in the school’s system.
Parents still have a right to all information about these changes, but their input and decisions about how the school approaches their child’s gender is a gray area. It’s apparently very difficult to instate changes for trans students without parental consent at this time.
What’s important though is that the ISSA is trying to effect gender-inclusive policy change beyond medical diagnosis. In the United States right now, in order for a student to be respected for their gender identity, schools require proof of sexual reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, or possibly letters and advocacy from a therapist.
But these children don’t need therapy, nor should they need a medical professional to validate the identity that they already know to be theirs. What they need is to for someone to listen.
(image via GLSEN)