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6 ways teachers can support trans students

March 30, 2018

When I was in school I was terrified of what would happen if people found out I was transgender. I stayed quiet, only talking to my closest friends. In first grade, I stopped using the bathrooms at school. I joined marching band to get out of PE, then quit marching band when I started binding my chest. I didn’t join any clubs so I could minimize the number of times my name was in the yearbook. I lost sleep, worrying what people would think about me. Although I had teachers that I loved, I never felt comfortable enough to truly be myself around them.

My negative experiences as a student are a big reason I am planning on becoming a teacher. I want my future students to be educated in the material, yes, but I also want them to learn to love themselves and others. We become teachers because we have a passion for inspiring students to be their best selves. But how can we encourage students to be their best selves in schools that won’t allow them to express themselves authentically?

Here are a six suggestions to make your classroom more trans-friendly and inclusive:

1. Research.

If you don’t understand something or have never heard a certain identity before, don’t bombard your student with uncomfortable questions. Explore LGBTQ sites, read LGBTQ literature, ask your LGBTQ friends, etc.

2. Adjust your language.

You can change a lot of things about the ways you speak and address your students/class to make your trans students feel more accepted. Start by not addressing your classes with “ladies and gentlemen,” there are so many gender-neutral alternatives that are just as effective (y’all, everyone, class, friends, students, etc.). Change every “son/daughter” and “he or she” in letters home to parents to “child” and “they/them,” respectively. Don’t split your class into boys and girls; instead, number them randomly or just split the class right down the middle.

3. Ask for pronouns.

At the beginning of the year, pass out a “Get to Know You” class survey. Along with questions about what hobbies they have and if they like sports, ask students for their preferred name and what pronouns they use, and ask if they’d be comfortable with you using their name/pronouns in emails/phone calls home (please be aware that some students might not be disclosing their identities at home). Normalize the concept of pronouns by telling your students your own pronouns. Put them in your signature at the bottom of your emails. Say them when you introduce yourself to parents and colleagues.

4. Address bullying.

LGBTQ students face high rates of bullying. A survey by GLSEN showed that more than 85% of LGBTQ students had been verbally harassed while in school. Unacceptance at home and in school leads to extraordinarily high rates of depression and anxiety. This is especially true for trans students, who face a 41% attempted suicide rate. That’s almost half of all trans youth that will attempt suicide in their lifetime. So, call out any bullying you see. Hold a Spirit Day celebration at your school. Call attention to slurs when you hear them. Stop discriminatory behavior before it happens.

5. Provide resources.

Depending on your state/district policy, these resources can be out and available to all your students or ready to distribute when asked for them. Compile emergency numbers (The Trevor Project and Trans Lifeline are two important organizations), or helpful sites for learning about identity and the community. Throw in a few local resources (LGBTQ centers, PFLAG meetings, homeless shelters, etc.). One of the most readily available resources is books. LGBTQ issues are covered in everything from picture books to young adult novels. It’s important for students to see themselves represented positively, so stock up your classroom library.

6. Defend your students.

It’s very easy to say that you accept and treat all of your students equally, but you need to be active, not passive. For trans students, this might mean encouraging other staff to use a student’s chosen name and/or pronouns. You might have to fight dress code policies or prom date rules. Testify against bills that affect your students and contact your representatives. Speak out in support of your students because they may be unable to speak up for themselves.

If you are a teacher, you do and will have LGBTQ students in your classroom. It does not matter what grade you teach, what subject you teach, if you teach at a private or a public school, or if you teach in the Deep South or the East Coast. You will have LGBTQ students.

You should not outcast your students because you don’t agree with parts of who they are. Do not share your homophobic and transphobic comments to your students or other faculty members. Try to learn more about LGBTQ history… this will likely help you learn to better understand your students’ identities. Teach respect by showing respect. What you say and do matters because it determines how your students will see themselves and how they will treat others.

You have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of your LGBTQ students. If in doubt, please remember that we are just kids who want to be treated with kindness, just like you.

To take action in your community, please continue to check out our student-activist-led campaign, revamp, as GLAAD’s Campus Ambassadors share insights on how to make your activism more inclusive and effective.

Jayson Bijak is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a senior at the University of Houston studying Elementary and Special Education. He works at his campus' LGBTQ+ Resource Center where he educates people on trans issues and ultimately hopes to teach students with disabilities.

the voice and vision of a new generation