Transhood Discussion Guide

Below please find information and resources on school safety, as well as a range of related topics, written by Mimi Lemay, transgender rights advocate and parent, and author of What We Will Become: A Mother, A Son and a Journey of Transformation.

School and Safety

Transgender students in education and creating inclusive school environments

In recent years, researchers have focused on gathering data on the experiences of transgender and non-binary youth in their schools and communities, and the results are sobering. GLSEN, an organization founded to increase access and safety for LGBTQ+ students at school, has made the powerful case for a federal anti-discrimination statute, the School Safety Improvement Act (SSIA), based on data it collected in its national school climate surveys.

Likewise, data from the recent Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance surveys show that transgender students are more than twice as likely to be bullied at school than their cisgender peers. Sexual violence against transgender youth occurs at a rate of three times that against cisgender youth. It is clear that schools need to invest in the creation of safe and inclusive environments for transgender youth. Access to free public education is impeded when transgender students do not feel safe in school. In the case of the Jackson family, Avery was homeschooled when the local school she attended failed to make her feel safe or welcome as her authentic self.

In May 2016, under the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter, instructing schools to afford Title IX protections (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex) to gender-expansive youth. As a result, schools receiving federal funds had to grant access to sex-segregated activities and facilities to transgender youth. They were also instructed to use the correct names and pronouns, and advised that harassment based on gender identity, transgender status, or gender transition would be considered harassment on “the basis of sex,” and was prohibited. This protective guidance was rescinded on February 23, 2017, one of the first policy changes effected by the new Trump administration. Students that had “come out” and begun to live as openly transgender under the previous administration were now rendered vulnerable to the whims of state and local policymakers.

Despite the rollback of protections against discrimination, some state, and local statutes, as well as an increasing number of policies in individual school districts, have improved access for transgender students to a safe and supportive school environment. Legal analysts believe that the recent Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton, which affirmed that Title VII protections “on the basis of sex” apply to transgender individuals, will have implications on student protections as well.  Advocates maintain, however, that codifying non-discrimination protections in statutes, such as the Equality Act and the SSIA (Safe School Improvement Act) are critical to fixing these inequities by creating comprehensive federal non-discrimination statutes that cover all the nation’s schools. Organizations like GLSEN, founded to improve access to education for all LGBTQ+ students, have underscored the importance of such legislation with the data they collect on students' experiences.

Gender affirming schools have some qualities and policies in common:

  1. They provide explicit gender-based non-discrimination policies.
  2. They train teachers and staff to understand the experiences and needs of gender-expansive youth.
  3. They provide developmentally appropriate, inclusive curricular materials and sexual health education.
  4. They have developed gender transition plans to help families navigate in-school transitions and are mindful of student’s privacy needs.
  5. They encourage the formation of GSAs and have visible supports in place for students to feel safe.

Organizations like Welcoming Schools (a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation), GLSEN, PFLAG, and the Gender Family Project at the Ackerman Institute provide training for schools on how to create safe and gender-inclusive environments where all students can thrive.

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