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How to Support Trans and Gender-Diverse Students
Teachers can make school a safe space

Some families, like mine, are unaccepting of trans and non-binary people. This can cause great conflict and stress at home. But teachers can do a lot to create a supportive environment at school. Here are some things my own teachers did that helped me, and other steps I wish they had taken:

• In New York State, schools must permit students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity, as opposed to the sex they were assigned at birth. Teachers: Speak up if these policies are not being followed in your school.

• At the beginning of each semester, ask students to let you know if they use a name other than their legal one and have preferred pronouns before taking attendance. You can pass around a sheet of paper where students can write their preferred name and pronouns, or invite students to meet with you after class.

• Avoid making assumptions about a student’s gender identity based on how they look or talk. A student may not fit your idea of what a “boy” or a “girl” looks like. It’s better to refer to them by name or simply “they” if you’re unsure about their pronouns.

• Some trans kids, like me, are out at school but not at home. If a student has told you they are trans, ask what name and pronouns they’d like you to use in front of their family.

• If you accidentally call the student by the wrong gender or pronouns, just correct
yourself and move on.

image by YC-Art Dept

• Don’t tell anyone that the student is transgender without their permission. This can be humiliating and can even lead to physical or verbal abuse. If a student has confided in you, they trust you to keep this information private. Ask the student who else knows and how you can keep them safe.

• Don’t tell the student they’re “wrong” about their gender. They know themselves and their experiences better than anyone else.

• Avoid phrases like “when you were [birth name]” or “before you were transgender.” In my experience, comments like these are hurtful to hear because I have always been trans; I just hadn’t come out yet.

• If you learn that a parent is reacting badly to a student’s gender identity or expression, treat the situation with the same sensitivity you would any other family issue. Expressing sympathy and listening to a student can go a long way. Follow established reporting procedures if you think abuse may be occurring at home.

It may seem challenging to keep abreast of changing terminology and concepts of gender identity. But by doing so, an educator can help create a safe learning environment for trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students.

For more information on issues affecting trans youth, check out: transyouthequality.org.

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