For most children, most of the time, their hours in school are the safest part of their day. But if a child is being called by the wrong name or pronouns, is unable to use the bathroom they feel comfortable using or is bullied and targeted because of who they are, school can be a very scary and unsafe place.
For myself as a mom, having two transgender children in elementary school can be a lot to handle. However, our school district has gone out of its way to make sure that transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) students have an easier time transitioning and living as their authentic selves.
With these programs, kids are given tools to help them when they have big emotions. For instance, the “breathing tool” can help a kid calm down and come back into their body after feeling deregulated and upset. Prioritizing social-emotional skills and a growth mindset can truly help support all kids.
Trans and Gender Nonconforming Kids Need More Support
But those programs alone will not help ease the path for a trans or GNC student. These students need more support from their schools and school districts. The Berkeley Unified School District changes names and gender markers in its computer system to reflect the wishes of trans and GNC students and their families. It’s a game-changer because having the correct name and markers across information systems ensures a student will not be “outed” by the incorrect name being put in the yearbook, school directory, or used by a substitute or extracurricular teacher.
Creating a gender plan is another amazing action that schools and parents can take to better support their trans and GNC students.
Through this thorough plan, parents have the ability to create a contact person on campus for their children, as well as a backup contact. If a child or young person is interested in being private about their gender identity, this is a great opportunity to discuss who will be told about the student’s identity and who will not. If the family chooses, this gender plan can be held in a separate folder from the permanent file to protect privacy further.
Teachers and Principals Need Education to Serve Trans Youth
In order for schools and school districts to be able to support transgender and GNC students, they need education. Teachers and administrators need to be taught how to best support these kids. Most cisgender people do not know a lot about being trans or gender non-conforming. Incredible organizations like Gender Spectrum, enGender, and Stand with Trans are providing this education.
Teachers can’t help their students if they are unaware of what they need. Once they are informed, they can better help all students, not just trans or GNC students. There are so many books for kids that are very helpful to use in the classroom. It is an amazing feeling for the trans or GNC students to see themselves reflected accurately in a book, and it also helps their peers better understand who they are and what they are experiencing.
Finally, if someone is not able to use a public bathroom, it greatly affects how they are able to live in the world. The bathroom issue is so important. At the same school you can have different experiences. For instance, a transgender boy who is comfortable using the boys bathroom may not care if there isn’t a gender neutral bathroom, but a gender non-conforming student may develop urinary infections because they do not feel comfortable using either the boys or girls bathroom.
Being a kid at school is hard enough, so to not be able to deal with basic human needs is upsetting and dangerous. The more gender-neutral options schools are able to provide their students, the better.
Helping your school and school district become more educated and proactive for our trans and GNC student will save lives. Some teachers say that some kids who don’t feel loved at home come to school to get that love. Many times trans and GNC kids are struggling at home to feel loved and accepted by their families, so let’s do everything in our power to make sure they feel loved and taken care of at school.