Family Blog—Supporting Gender Diverse Kids in School
Gender diverse is a broad term used to describe individuals whose gender identity, gender role, or gender expression differs from the cultural norms prescribed to people labeled male and female . This term is inclusive of transgender individuals as well as anyone else who challenges gender norms. For gender diverse children, there are a number of obstacles that make it hard to get support. Places like doctor’s offices and religious institutions can be difficult. Supportive parents can work to craft a home life that is affirming and supportive, but there are limits to their influence. One of the most challenging, and sometimes frustrating, spaces for gender diverse children can be schools.
The structure of schools (e.g., curriculum, teacher/staff trainings and administrative infrastructure) are rarely created with gender diverse students in mind. Common areas of challenge for gender diverse students include bathrooms/locker rooms, name change/documentation, pronouns in the classroom, use of sex-segregation in the classroom (e.g., boys’ line, girls’ line), and access to sport and other extracurricular activities . Bullying and harassment by peers and staff are also common experiences. Ninety percent of transgender students hear other students make derogatory statements about sexual orientation and/or gender expression. Another 39% of transgender students hear homophobic, sexist or negative statements about gender expression from school staff . A significant number of transgender students have been called names or threatened due to their sexual orientation (89%) and/or their gender expression (87%). Over a quarter of transgender students have been physically assaulted in school due to their gender expression (26%) or sexual orientation (28%) .
Given this range of challenges, parents can often feel stuck, not knowing how to best support their children, especially given the enormity of the barriers. Luckily parents are not alone, and there are resources that can help parents best support their children in schools.
- Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender or gender identity in educational settings. This includes protections for access to bathrooms, confidentiality around gender identity and transition, right to a safe learning environment, etc. The National Center for Trans Equality has additional resources on legal protections.
- Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and Section 504 Plans are also possible avenues of protection for gender diverse children. This document contains further information on IEPs and 504 Plans. Also included are templates for creating a gender transition plan with your school.
- Gender Spectrum: A California-based organization committed to a broad range of education-specific resources for schools, parents and students. Available resources include model policies for schools on gender diversity, resources for teachers, and templates for gender-neutral paperwork and signage.
- Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER): A youth-led organization committed to creating more inclusive schools. Available resources include education-specific resources and infographics.
- Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN): National organization dedicated to improving educational experiences for LGBTQ students.
- TransActive: An Oregon-based organization offering resources for parents and school on helping gender diverse youth.
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1. American Psychological Association (2015). Key terms and concepts in understanding gender diversity and sexual orientation among students. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/programs/safe-supportive/lgbt/key-terms.pdf
2. Orr, A. & Baum, J. (2015) Schools in transition: a guide for supporting transgender students in K-12 schools. Retrieved from http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/Schools-In-Transition.pdf
3. Greytak, E. A., Kosciw, J. G., and Diaz, E. M. (2009). Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. New York: GLSEN.