Practicioner Articles

It is vital for educators to engage themselves and their students on transgender topics and issues in order to better support their transgender students. Here, suggestions from McKibben (2016) and Erickson-Schroth (2017) are explored to help educators find the right approach to support their transgender students.

As one of the most victimized minority groups in schools, transgender students experience an extremely hostile school environment (Erickson-Schroth, 2017). In GLSEN’s 2015 survey, 75.8% of transgender students report feeling unsafe at school because of their gender identity. Furthermore, 69% of transgender students reported avoiding school bathrooms, 64% reported being verbally harassed, 24.9% reported being physically harassed, and 12% reported being physically assaulted (GLSEN, 2015). Due to schools’ hostile environments, transgender students are more likely to miss school, earn lower grades, and not pursue a college education (McKibben, 2016). Adding to the hostile environment, most schools do not have formal rules around gender inclusion or addressing gender identity in the curricula or in school policies (Erickson-Schroth, 2017). However, in order for schools to meet their obligation to educate all students, they must be safe, accessible, and equitable institutions. So what can educators do?

McKibben (2016) and Erickson-Schroth (2017) suggest four specific ways in which educators can make their schools safe environments for their transgender students. Firstly, it is vital that educators use their students’ chosen names and pronouns properlyeducators need to ask students what their chosen name and pronouns are and not make assumptions. Secondly, educators should use gender-neutral language and trans-affirming examples in their classrooms. Educators can do this through inserting LGBTQ history and events into the curriculum and/or through informal conversations with students, which place discrimination and activism in a larger context, allowing students to see beyond their classrooms and formal curriculum. Thirdly, educators must respect their transgender students’ privacy and not reveal transgender students’ transgender status, legal name, or sex assigned at birth because not only would this expose their students to increased bullying and harassment, but it would additionally violate The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Lastly, it is vital that educators intervene in instances of discrimination, harassment, and/or gender stereotyping in order to create safe learning environments. These four potential paths provide educators with the crucial steps to personally support their transgender students and make their schools trans-inclusive.

Silence from teachers and administrators about transgender identities leads to further discrimination and stigmatization of the transgender community (Erickson-Schroth, 2017). However, schools can be places that help transgender students thrive. Therefore, it is up to educators to alter the learning environment and help transgender students feel safe, respected, and affirmed—as past research shows that educators who address homophobia and transphobia play a significant role in creating a safe environment for their students (Erickson-Schroth, 2017). When educators gain knowledge about transgender students’ experiences, speak with respect about transgender individuals, and use correct language and terminology, educators become effective allies, which has the ability to dramatically shift the school climate to one that is supportive, safe, and inclusive of all students (McKibben, 2016; Erickson-Schroth, 2017).