While political leaders score points by bullying trans and gender diverse people, schools and advocates can ensure all our kids are welcome at school.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is considering ways to define a person’s sex that would eliminate Title IX protections for transgender people and others who express their gender identity in ways beyond the traditional male/female binary.
Already, the U.S. Department of Education has withdrawn Obama-era guidance that insisted schools should give students the right to self-expression in schools in their preferred gender identity, including accessing the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the gender with which they identify. The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has also stopped investigating complaints from transgender students denied access to the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Currently, individual states and school districts determine their own policies.
While Chicago Public Schools has excellent policies supporting transgender students on paper, in practice families continue to leave CPS because their children face harassment and are not supported by principals and school staff. I personally know two families who have left CPS over this issue, one as recently as last June.
At the same time, a wealth of resources exists for parents, young people and educators who want schools to do better in supporting trans and gender diverse students. For teachers of younger students, Teaching Tolerance offers this guide to teaching the basics about gender identity and sexual orientation (and making sure children understand the difference between the two). They also offer a good overview of the gender spectrum, including a glossary of terms, in this article.
It’s understandable that teachers of young children may worry about getting into these topics for fear parents will express concerns. Gender Spectrum offers a helpful FAQ for parents that answers common questions about teaching related to gender identity.
Gender Spectrum also offers administrators and parents detailed guidance for how to support students who are making a gender identity transition. The handbook includes useful documents like this Gender Support Plan, that help spell out who at school will support a trans student in case of bullying or harassment.
Not surprisingly, there are also many resources more tightly targeted to high schools. GLSEN offers a resource guide that includes video and links to stories from trans and gender nonconforming students sharing their school experiences. Another recent Teaching Tolerance article explores ways adults can support nonbinary young people, most crucially by providing supportive mentoring regardless of their own gender identity.
Hands-on training for school staff is critical. Fortunately, Chicago schools have access to more than one high-quality provide. Both the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and Lurie Children’s Hospital offer quality professional development to school staff to help them learn more about gender identity and supporting young people who identify anywhere on the gender spectrum.
There’s a huge societal shift taking place in terms of acceptance of trans and gender diverse people, especially children and youth. By taking advantage of these and other resources, schools can become more welcoming environments for all our young people and can foster their success in later life.