In order to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students, it is important to discuss transgender and gender non-conforming identity and issues in schools and classrooms.
Bullying is an important issue in our nation’s schools. Bullying and harassment of all kinds disproportionately impact LGBT students and in particular, gender non-conforming students in the younger grades and transgender students in the older grades.
Effects of Bullying and Harassment of Elementary Students
In the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) survey, Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, they report that elementary students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are more likely than others to say they are:
- 56% vs. 33% called names, made fun of or bullied in school.
- 42% vs. 61% less likely to feel very safe at school.
- 35% vs. 15% likely to report that they sometimes do not want to go to school because they feel unsafe or afraid there.
Effects of Bullying and Harassment of Older Students
For older students who are transgender, GLSEN’s Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation's Schools reports:
- 90% of transgender students heard derogatory remarks (homophobic language and negative remarks about gender expression) sometimes, often or frequently in school
- 90% of transgender students heard negative remarks about someone’s gender; expression sometimes, often, or frequently in school;
- 89% of transgender students are verbally harassed (called names or threatened) in school;
- 55% of transgender students have been physically harassed (pushed or shoved) in school; and
- almost half of all transgender students have skipped a class or a day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
The Need for Discussion in Schools
The more opportunities transgender students have to discuss LGBT issues in school, the more likely they are to feel part of their school community, and transgender students who are “out” to most or all students and staff report a greater sense of belonging. It is interesting to note that most transgender students have talked with a teacher or a school-based mental health professional in the past year about LGBT-related issues.
This makes a strong case for the importance of discussing these issues in the classroom as well as preparing yourself for having one-on-one conversations with students. It is important on two levels: to build understanding and empathy among all the students about transgender identity and issues and to help transgender and gender non-conforming students feel more comfortable in school and develop positive self-esteem. Helping all students to be more knowledgeable, understanding and empathic serves all of us in creating safe, welcoming and more humane schools and communities.
Familiarizing yourself with and teaching about transgender issues may be initially difficult or uncomfortable. Therefore, we are providing the following resources, guidelines and ideas to help you navigate this process.