schools for LGBTQ+ kids

Schools should be safe environments for students to thrive in and learn. However, for many trans kids, schools have become a place of bullying and discrimination. We are seeing a decrease in safety for trans kids, forced to endure misgendering, deadnaming, and being outed by teachers, in addition to bills being passed that restrict their access to the correct bathroom and locker room.

There is a strong focus on the presumed lack of safety of cis students when in reality it is simply a way to disguise transphobia. As a study published by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law confirms, there is no direct link between allowing trans people to use the bathroom they prefer and the safety of cis people. We outline how governments are failing trans students and provide some essential tips on how to help your trans loved one during these difficult times.

Now that children are going back to school, creating a supportive environment for them to thrive is of utmost importance. If they are given the space to be themselves, their mental health and overall well-being will improve, especially for trans kids who do not have supportive family members. Schools have the potential to educate others, provide representation, and let trans children know they are not alone.

Schools are becoming unsafe spaces for trans students

In July 2023, the UK Government confirmed they plan to increase the transparency between teachers and parents. However, they are doing so in a way that harms trans students. The new guidance would force teachers to tell parents that their child is trans, questioning their gender, or using a different name and pronouns.

While the guidance allows for exceptions, this false guise of transparency only serves to out trans children to their potentially unsupportive families. It would put them at an increased risk for homelessness, violence, and physical and mental abuse.

‘As a teacher, my number one priority is safeguarding and I can’t really understand how this has anything to do with safeguarding students’, Jo, an educator, told PinkNews. ‘It seems to just be safeguarding Tory interests’, she added. Jo explained that if this policy comes into effect, it would increase transphobia and make LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe at school.

A week after the announcement, the plans for the implementation of the guidelines were delayed, as Attorney General Victoria Prentis declared they would breach the Equality Act 2010 and thus, be unlawful. One petition on the UK Government and Parliament’s website and one on change.org, created by Heidi Mavir (a parent of a trans child) are demanding the UK Government stop this unlawful guidance and protect the rights of trans kids at school. These efforts from activists and advocates are ensuring that the UK Government is being held accountable for their actions.

US school district allows misgendering of students

In August 2023, the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) system published new guidelines. These state that teachers have to refer to their students by the pronouns and titles which align with the sex they were assigned at birth. To complicate things further, parents have to fill out a form to notify teachers about any pronoun change, even if it is just a nickname. For example, a cisgender child whose name is Christopher will need permission to be called Chris. However, teachers are allowed to use the wrong pronouns even after a parent of a trans child fills out a form.

All children who live in an unsupportive household are either forced to come out to their family, risking their safety and housing situation or have to endure being misgendered every day at school. Neither option is feasible and would only cause further harm. Instead of getting to talk about it on their terms, coming out to their family when they are ready, it becomes a state-mandated phone call from their teacher.

In addition, students will be penalised for using bathrooms or changing facilities that do not align with their sex assigned at birth. The OCPS which is in Florida, is one of the largest school districts in the US, serving over 209,000 students across 210 schools. These new guidelines will have a serious negative impact on trans students’ mental and physical well-being.

Among these attacks on trans rights, several schools are fighting back. After Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Department of Education released similar policies as the UK Government, at least four US school districts refused to comply. The Fairfax County Public Schools, Prince William County Public Schools, Arlington and Alexandria school districts all clearly stated that they will not adhere to Youngkin’s anti-trans policies. While the fight for inclusion and diversity at school can feel daunting, we applaud and stand by all schools trying to make a difference.

New survey finds trans students feel unsafe at school

A new survey found that LGBTQ+ youth do not feel safe at school. In August 2023, the Human Rights Campaign released its 2023 LGBTQ Youth Report which consisted of a survey of 13,000 young people in the US. They examined the experiences of queer and trans youth aged 13 through 18. Around 33 percent of trans people surveyed did not feel safe in school bathrooms. This number increased to 49 percent when reporting on their safety in changing rooms. Out of all LGBTQ+ youth, trans people felt the most unsafe at school – which is not surprising given the continuous attacks on trans rights.

The situation for trans people has worsened over the past years. According to the findings of the 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report, more trans people used to feel comfortable presenting in accordance with their gender identity. However, this number has decreased, alongside the support for trans kids at school. At least ten US states have passed bills that limit trans people when using sing sex spaces, such as bathrooms and changing rooms that align with their gender identity.

Although anti-trans bills targeting schools are being passed, a recent poll found that there is a strong backlash to said policies. Navigator Research surveyed 1,000 US voters between August 17th and August 21st 2023. When asked about the top three issues, only 28 percent care about children ‘being exposed to woke issues about gender and race in school’. The majority (58 percent) is far more interested in keeping kids safe from gun violence and mass shootings in school. Transphobic school policies were met with disapproval and concerns, especially those regarding book bans and mandatory genital inspections for young athletes.

Younger generations are leading the way for trans rights

While we are seeing a push for anti-trans bills, the general population’s view on trans people is changing. Younger generations are stepping up to showcase their support. Back in 2022, More in Common published a survey on British people’s opinions on gender identity. The survey showed that 40 percent of British people are in favour of school policies tackling anti-trans bullying.

When asked about the appropriate age schools should talk to children about trans identities, two-thirds agreed that it should be taught in either primary or secondary school. However, the remaining third completely disagreed, believing trans issues neither to be school-appropriate nor a topic that we should be talking about with children in any setting. Nevertheless, this conservative viewpoint is often shared among older generations. 75 percent of Generation Z believe it to be appropriate for schools to tell children about trans people. While older generations lag, the majority of Gen Z are leading the way for LGBTQ+ rights, providing hope for a better future.

Bullying at school

Bullying and discrimination at school based on students’ gender identity have a significant impact on young trans people’s mental health and well-being. This discrimination affects trans children’s safety at school. They are more likely to avoid unsafe environments. More importantly, their mental and physical well-being is at stake if teachers are unwilling to tackle trans issues at schools and implement policies against anti-trans discrimination.

A 2017 Stonewall report, a UK-based LGBT+ organisation, found that 64 percent of trans students were being bullied for being trans at school. Almost 10 percent of victims were subjected to death threats. The report also stated that around 40 percent of LGBT+ people have skipped school due to bullying. Stonewall has since released a toolkit for preventing and tackling discrimination based on gender identity and sexuality in secondary schools.

How can you support your trans child?

Parents and family members play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and well-being of transgender children. The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organisation for LGBTQ+ youth, found that the rate of LGBTQ+ children attempting suicide was reduced by 40 percent when said children had at least one supportive parent. If you want a trans kid to thrive as an adult, having support from their family is a great place to start.

We strongly encourage you to seek out counsellors and therapists who specialise in gender identity and transgender issues and who can guide both you and your trans child through their journey. At GenderGP, we offer counselling sessions for both individuals as well as parents and family members. All our counsellors are either trans themselves or have extensive experience working with the transgender community.

Equality Act 2010

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination at school based on what they call ‘gender reassignment’. This term refers to anyone who has started their transition. A medical transition is not necessary to be protected under the Act, but it does require you to have started socially transitioning, like changing names and pronouns. According to the Equality Act 2010, schools have to ensure that all trans and gender diverse students are not treated unfairly or singled out. Essentially, the school is legally not allowed to discriminate against your child because they are trans.

How can you help at school?

If you are a parent or a guardian of a trans child, initiate a conversation to better understand their experience at school. Make sure you do this in a safe space. Bullying can happen online as well as in person. If it is happening online, block and report the accounts that are sending hate comments.

If the bullying occurs at school due to another classmate, inform the teachers. Be your child’s biggest advocate. This means speaking out against anti-trans bullying but also advocating for more trans-inclusive school policies. Establish a relationship to other parents and educate them on transgender issues, whether they have a trans child or not. It is important for everyone to understand what challenges trans children and students are facing in order to best support the community.

For example, you can host parent-teacher conferences where you discuss how to best safeguard trans kids at school. This means implementing anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies that explicitly include trans and gender-diverse people. When students or educators do not act in accordance with these policies, enforce strict measures to prioritise the well-being of all trans and non-binary students. There should be a zero-tolerance policy regarding anti-trans bullying and discrimination.

However, if the school’s policies continue to harm your child, consider transferring schools for the sake of your child’s mental and physical well-being. The Human Rights Campaign has created a guide with resources and emergency funding to help US trans individuals and families relocate or get access to services outside of your current state. There are several non-profit organisations that aim to support the trans and non-binary community in these situations, such as A Place for Marsha and TRANSport.

How can you help as a teacher?

If you are a teacher, another option is to invite other educators and school administrators to engage in open dialogues with both students and parents. Request that the school provides sensitivity training to educators to help support trans students. This training should be led by trans people in order to accurately tackle the diverse experiences and challenges of trans students. Schools should also aim to hire trans teachers who can educate students and with whom they will likely feel more comfortable opening up with about their gender identity, creating a safer environment for trans children. If none exist, form LGBTQ+ clubs as well as clubs solely dedicated to trans and gender-diverse people. These clubs can foster a sense of community among students with similar experiences who can support each other in their journey.

Moreover, be an advocate for gender-neutral facilities, such as bathrooms and changing rooms to accommodate trans and non-binary students’ needs. This is especially vital for non-binary students who do not identify with the binary of male and female. Forcing them into a gendered facility would only cause further harm and invalidate their gender identity.

How can you support your trans friend?

If you are friends with a trans person or go to school with them, be their biggest supporter. Celebrate them every day for who they are by affirming their gender and using the correct pronouns and name. If you hear other people at school misgender or deadname them, do not stay silent. Unless your friend has told you otherwise, stand up for them to show your support. However, be aware of unsafe situations as you could be putting you and your trans friend in danger which is more counterproductive than helpful. If you are unsure whether a situation at school could potentially lead to dangerous consequences, ignore the bully and ensure both of your safety.

The Inc Project’s Free Guide

The Inc Project is a new initiative based out of Wales. They were founded to encourage positive environments for trans students, and they aim to give schools in Wales the information and confidence they need to make changes to be inclusive and supportive of transgender, non-binary and gender-exploring students.

The organisation have produced a free, downloadable guide packed full of useful information and ideas on how schools, parents and students can foster more welcoming environments for all students, regardless of gender identity. The guide includes topics such as being an ally, making school facilities gender inclusive, and how to improve visibility among others.

You can download and read the full guide here for free.

Support trans students

Teachers and educational establishments have an impact on children and young people’s development. If anti-trans discrimination and bullying at school continues, it will negatively impact trans people’s overall health and mental well-being – it already has. It is important your school educates all students and teachers about trans issues as well as implements policies which can protect young trans people at school.

Creating safe spaces in schools should be the number one priority, especially for trans kids who fear getting outed and bullied because of who they are. Parents, you need to affirm your child’s gender identity and support them wherever you can. Make sure to let them know they are not alone. Actively educate yourself on trans issues and trans identities, and utilise the resources we have provided you with to better understand what it is like navigating life as a trans person. Fight for your child’s right to have better experiences in educational settings, where they can learn and grow as a person.

Resources for parents, friends and family

Below you can find a list of resources and educational materials, that you can use to educate yourself on issues facing the transgender community. This list includes resources on how to support your trans child, as well as LGBTQ+ organisations and online communities you can reach out to for additional help.

Resources:

  • GenderGP blog: Read through our blogs for an overall understanding of transgender issues and news. We cover topics from studies on the positive impact of gender-affirming healthcare, to the legislative action taken by governments around the world regarding trans rights.
  • GenderGP website: We offer key resources on topics such as starting gender-affirming healthcare, transitioning at the workplace, gender dysphoria and many more.
  • National Center for Transgender Equality: is a non-profit social equality organisation advocating for transgender rights. They also offer self-help guides on health coverage and ID documents.
  • Gendered Intelligence: is a trans-led grassroots organisation with the aim to increase understandings of gender diversity and advocate for trans rights.
  • Gender Spectrum: is an organisation for trans youth and their loved ones. They help families, organisations and institutions understand the complexity of gender diversity, providing resources and facilitating family support groups.
  • 2015 U.S Transgender Survey: is the largest survey of trans people conducted so far.

Educational materials:

LGBTQ+ organisations:

  • National Center for Transgender Equality: is a non-profit social equality organisation advocating for transgender rights. They also offer self-help guides on health coverage and ID documents.
  • Transgender Law Center: is the largest US trans-led organisation advocating self-determination for all trans and gender-diverse people, fighting for their rights and liberation.
  • Trans People of Color Coalition: is a non-profit organisation that foregrounds and promotes the interests of trans people of colour.
  • National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition: is the only US social justice organisation led by Black trans people who aim to address the inequalities faced by the Black trans community. They also have a support centre where you can chat to them, call them or book a virtual appointment to speak to them.
  • The Trevor Project: is a non-profit organisation that provides suicide prevention and 24/7 crisis support services for LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Trans Family Support Services: provides support and guidance for trans and gender-diverse youth and their families through the transitioning process. They offer family coaching, assistance with healthcare and insurance issues, they help you navigate the legal issues and offer support at schools.
  • Mermaids: a UK-based health and advocacy charity for trans and non-binary youth and their families.
  • GLAAD: is one of the largest US non-profit organisation focused on LGBTQ+ advocacy and cultural change.
  • PFLAG: is the largest US organisation supporting, educating and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and their families and loved ones. While PFLAG stands for ‘Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays’, the organisation provides support to all the members of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • FFLAG: is a UK-based voluntary organisation and registered charity providing support to parents and families of LGBTQ+ people.
  • Gender Spectrum: is an organisation for trans youth and their loved ones. They help families, organisations and institutions understand the complexity of gender diversity, providing resources and facilitating family support groups.

Online support communities and programs:

  • Trans Families: is a non-profit organisation that supports trans people and their families (formerly known as Gender Diversity). They run online parent support groups as well as trans youth programs.
  • Gender Spectrum: is an organisation for trans youth and their loved ones. They help families, organisations and institutions understand the complexity of gender diversity, providing resources and facilitating family support groups.
  • PFLAG – Trans Families Project: is a US-based support group for trans and non-binary children and their family members and friends. They meet online twice a month on the second Sunday of the month.
  • Families for Trans Equality: is a network of families with trans children who support other families alike.
  • Mermaids: a UK-based health and advocacy charity for trans and non-binary youth and their families.