Transgender youth experience multiple forms of discrimination and stigma in schools in the U.S. Here, the works of Ethan Cicero and Linda Wesp (2017), and Kris Tunac de Pedro, Christopher Jackson, Erin Campbell, Jade Gilley, and Brock Ciarelli (2016) are explored to address how educators can make their schools trans-inclusive through gender affirming practices.
In schools, reports indicate that transgender youth experience disproportionate levels of victimization, which commonly disrupts or delays their education and career attainment, development, and social and psychological well-being (Cicero & Wesp, 2017; Tunac de Pedro et al., 2016). Importantly, schools with gender-affirming environments report that transgender youth’s social and psychological well-being is significantly improved (GLSEN, 2015). Therefore, educators must become critically aware of the ways that they can change their schools within their individual classrooms.
The Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine suggests that affirming a child’s authentic gender is “paramount for healthy growth and development” (Cicero & Wesp, 2017; 100). Therefore, it is necessary for educators to create gender-affirming environments in schools, which can be done in classrooms through cultivating critical consciousness, an educative tool used to engage learners in questioning the nature of their historical and social situation (Tunac de Pedro et al., 2016). Through completing a series of three activities involving (a) critical reflection (i.e., the process through which a person has the opportunity to observe and reject societal oppression), (b) political efficacy (i.e., the belief that one is able to transform the conditions of a society that produces injustice), and (c) critical action (i.e., the active participation in personal and/or community level activities and practices that challenge the conditions that sustain social inequities), critical consciousness can be cultivated in all ages (Tunac de Pedro et al., 2016). Through partaking in critical consciousness activities, students (a) gain awareness about the oppression of transgender individuals, (b) assess the role of social institutions in reinforcing the marginalization of the transgender community, and (c) explore how schools can support transgender students (Tunac de Pedro et al., 2016).
WHAT IF CRITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS ACTIVITIES AREN’T AN OPTION?
Importantly, cultivating critical consciousness is not the only way to create gender-affirming environments. Educators can create inclusive and gender-affirming environments for their students in non-formal ways. For instance, educators can (a) use students’ chosen names and pronouns, (b) avoid using gendered language and/or language that normalizes the gender binary (i.e., instead of saying “boys line up over here and girls over there,” say “line up by height/birthday/hair color/favorite color/etc.”), and (c) intervene during instances of harassment or gender stereotyping between students (i.e., if an educator hears “you can’t play with dolls, you’re a boy” they should intervene and say “If X wants to play with dolls he is absolutely allowed to, the same way that you are allowed to play with toys that you like—all boys and all girls can play with the same toys”). Thus, through both informal and formal pathways, educators have the crucial ability to protect their transgender students through creating gender-affirming learning environments.