Freshman year of high school can be a big adjustment for any teen. During my freshman year, I was also adjusting to life as a teenage boy. I had already been out to my family for 3 months and transitioned at school, but it felt like my school was somewhat unequipped to deal with having a new transgender student.
All I wanted was to be seen as a boy by my friends, teachers, and peers. However, not every teacher was as careful about using my correct name and pronouns as I would have hoped. I felt as though I was almost normal, but I was afraid to raise my hand for fear of being misgendered. I was also encouraged to use the staff bathrooms at school instead of the regular boys’ ones. While some people may feel more comfortable using a single stall, non-gendered bathroom, I felt as though I was being singled out because I had to go get a key from the nurse every time I wanted to use the bathroom. (I never did it, I just went to the boys’ bathroom.) My official gender has also not yet been changed on my student records.
I do not blame the individuals of my school administration for my specific negative experiences. In fact, I have had a pretty painless time in high school thus far. I just wish that schools had more awareness of the ways that they can better support transgender students, so I created a list of 7 ways schools can do just that.
1. Hire transgender, nonbinary, and other LGBT+ staff members.
Students of any identity deserve role models who share their experiences.
2. Mandatory inclusion training workshops for all staff members.
Even in the most progressive of school environments, teachers need to be educated about boundaries and ways to create inclusive classroom environments. These boundaries may include not outing students without their consent and refraining from asking inappropriate questions about a student’s experience or body.
3. Have all students make name markers that include pronouns at the beginning of each school year.
This allows every student to clarify what name and pronoun they wish to be called without having to ask the teacher separately. It also takes the pressure off students who feel they need to specify their pronouns.
4. Make all the school bathrooms gender-neutral.
This can be as simple as allowing students to use the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable or can include removing gendered signs from outside the bathrooms. Make sure trans students are aware of this policy and that they have the administration’s support in using the bathroom of their choice.
5. Enforce the use of a student’s chosen name and pronouns.
Make it really hard for a teacher to get away with misgendering a student. Slip-ups happen, and trans students are aware of this, but staff should know that there are consequences for any purposeful disregard of a student’s gender identity.
6. Enforce a zero-tolerance for bullying policy.
This one may come up less than the others, but if any student comes forward and expresses that they are experiencing bullying on the basis of gender identity, don’t ignore it. More than 80% of transgender students experience bullying and nearly 30% of transgender individuals will attempt suicide before the age of 25.
7. Make it clear to transgender students that their rights are supported by the school’s policies.
A student is more likely to come forward about a negative experience if they feel that the administration will actually do something about it. Furthermore, understanding that there are tangible consequences for transphobic actions serves as a powerful deterrent.
As many places are, schools can be a scary place to be trans. It is the job of the school administration to do everything they can to make schools safe for transgender students, who are already at high risk for bullying, mental illness, and homelessness. In a building full of judgemental peers, teachers and administrators should be a source of support that students can turn to if they face challenges regarding their gender identity.