Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in October 2018.
Transgender youth exist.
They have always existed—and they always will.
Newly written laws or rewrites to governmental policy cannot write people’s innate identities out of existence. Instead, what such changes do is justify the denial of access to bathrooms, locker rooms, teams and activities that put up literal and figurative walls around gender.
There are things allied educators can do right now to protect trans, nonbinary and intersex students. Keeping silent isn’t one of them.
Crafting trans-inclusive policies at your school sends the biggest message and limits your school’s reliance on Title IX to justify equitable practices. If you are not in a position to craft policies such as the examples in our Best Practices for Serving LGBTQ Students, advocate for them.
In the meantime, be aware of how your trans, nonbinary and intersex students may feel. Check in. Build them up. Continue to respect their pronouns and chosen identifiers. And use these fundamental suggestions to signal to those students that it is safe for them to be who they are in your classroom—and that you have their back.
Encourage discussion instead of silence.
Don’t ignore questions about current events. Unwillingness to engage in conversation about the lives of LGBTQ people validates the belief that such experiences should be whispered about. Use political events like this one as opportunities to encourage queer students to speak their truth and as opportunities for all students to understand the consequences of court decisions, legal definitions and local and federal legislation. The question “What does this mean for me and the people I know?” deserves a thoughtful, non-partisan response.
Don’t erase transgender, nonbinary or intersex identities from your classroom.
You may have no control as to whether transgender, nonbinary and intersex students are written into the law. But you do have power to make sure they are represented in your classroom. Provide windows and mirrors to the lived experiences of LGBTQ people through your classroom library, vocabulary and curriculum. Our list of LGBTQ texts, including books, classroom-friendly films, terms and historical figures, is a good place to start. Even displaying posters featuring inspiring LGBTQ figures like Laverne Cox and Jazz Jennings or messages of inclusion in your room can send a strong, positive message.
Search our Perspectives Text Library for classroom readings that can serve as windows and mirrors for your students and make for a more inclusive curriculum.
Remind your students that you support their safety, well-being and rights in any political climate.
Brush up on your LGBTQ best practices, and ensure your allyship foundation rests firmly in place. Review and share these articles to deepen your understanding of the term “ally”:
- Being There for Nonbinary Youth and accompanying toolkit
- Anatomy of An Ally and toolkit
- Five Steps to Safer Schools
Take inventory of the stories and messages you share.
While the decisions of those in power continue to profoundly affect the lives of queer youth, you can use your own position of authority to craft a positive narrative of inclusion. Many students will look to their social context for their sense of approval and belonging. Young people absorb messages most indelibly by observing those around them. Therefore, make sure you model a welcoming mind and open heart to match the equity you teach. Speak up when students or colleagues use anti-LGBTQ language in school.
Remember: As an authority figure, everything you say, from a lecture to an off-the-cuff joke, carries weight and influence. Reinforcing gender norms and heteronormative cultural expectations can alienate LGBTQ students looking for support.
Avoid the boy/girl dichotomy when dividing students into groups, and think twice before joking with students about relationships or crushes. Even if the messages you model are unintentionally negative or biased, students may conclude: My identity is abnormal. I do not matter here.
Know your outside resources.
LGBTQ students’ lived experiences often differ from those of even their most well-meaning allies. Without seeing their identities positively reflected in the media or news, they may seek additional help. Guide your students by familiarizing yourself with resources available in your area: queer-friendly youth shelters, LGBTQ-affirming places of worship or supportive community organizations, for example.
The ultimate antidote to the threats facing trans, nonbinary and intersex students right now lies in a robust commitment to inclusion and empowerment.
Collins is a senior writer for Learning for Justice.
Ehrenhalt is the school programs manager for Learning for Justice.
The above recommendations are adapted from LFJ’s Best Practices for Serving LGBTQ Students and our article “Six Ways to Stand Behind Your LGBT Students.” This article was first published in 2018 under the title “Federal Agencies Want to Erase Trans Identities; Don’t Erase Them in Your School.” It was updated in 2021 to remove a section outlining proposed changes to Title IX, but you can find an archived version of the original here.