Taking the Lead on LGBTQ Issues

Taking the Lead on LGBTQ Issues

By Alexandra Scott, Educational Consultant, Blogger for The Huffington Post, and author of Prep School Transfender

During the past several years, the rise in public consciousness about transgender and gender non-conforming people has skyrocketed. Included in that increased awareness have been innumerable media references to the issues surrounding what it means to be be transgender and gender non-conforming and how society is dealing with it. From first-grader Coy Mathis’ bathroom discrimination case in Colorado, to Leelah Alcorn’s despair over conversion therapy and subsequent suicide, to countless overtly mean-spirited discriminatory bathroom and locker room bills in state legislatures around the nation—all reflect a general lack of understanding of what it means to be gender non-heteronormative. Despite the increasing number of traumatic situations for transgender children, the increased attention to trans issues is actually an opportunity for us to move our culture forward.

By necessity, schools are on the cutting edge of figuring out how to manage the presence of and educate school community members about the emergence of transgender and gender non-binary students. Those schools that choose to be active in creating and implementing non-discriminatory policies are generating important conversations about the powerful negative influence of prejudice.

Schools that come to grips with the presence of transgender students and face the conscious and unconscious negative impact of heteronormative history and cultural mores are better able to generate a school culture of loving inclusion. I think we would all agree that the best schools are composed of mutually-supportive and compassionate people who encourage each student to maximize their potential and lay the groundwork for each child to find an authentic self.

We all know that developing emotional intelligence and the ability to nurture positive relationships are key to both individual growth and a healthy and productive society. Understanding, accepting, and loving transgender and gender non-binary students is a powerful step in the right direction.

School policies that support LGBTQ and non-binary students can be important pieces of an overall institutional plan designed to create a spirit of inclusion and mutual support. How a school addresses issues of bullying and micro-aggressive behaviors determines the health of the school culture. While policies are important to establish baselines for behavior and articulate how people should treat each other, the key to a healthy, mutually-supportive school culture is how mindful and loving the adults are. When teachers and administrators consistently and intentionally reflect inclusion and unconditional love, students follow.

Policies to support LGBTQ and gender non-binary students should include:

  1. A school-wide anti-discrimination policy that includes gender identity and sexual preference.
  2. A school-wide policy allowing students to use facilities and programs associated with their self-identified gender.
  3. A structure for ongoing schoolwide education and training about gender identity, sexual preference, and the history of conscious and unconscious heteronormative cultural dominance.
  4. Approval procedures that ensure all documents, sign-up sheets, promotional materials, mailings, and other written materials reflect the school’s antidiscrimination policy and inclusive culture.
  5. Clubs, sports, and organizations are open and inclusive.
  6. Parent and board education.
  7. Software and internal documents that allow a student to self-identify.

Policy support is available online from organizations like GLSN, NCTE, LGBT Campus, and statewide equality groups. But, I believe the best resource is people who have deep personal experience being transgender in the independent school world.

There are challenges for schools, students, and families in understanding the LGBTQ community and how it fits into your campus. The key is actually being supportive and loving of all students. Everything else follows.

Schools that come to grips with the presence of transgender students and face the conscious and unconscious negative impact of heteronormative history and cultural mores are better able to generate a school culture of loving inclusion.

Best Practices for Managing and Supporting Transgender Students in the Independent School Application Process

While visiting schools and talking with admission people, it has become apparent that best practices for managing and supporting transgender students in the independent school application process are in a state of flux:

  • How does the admission office handle the applications of self-identified transgender prospective students? Does the school allow for each applicant to gender self-identify?
  • How transgender and gender non-binary friendly is the application itself?
  • How skilled and well trained is the admission team on gender issues?
  • How does the school present itself on the tour? What subliminal and overt messages does it send to prospective students about gender? Are current students thoughtful and articulate about inclusion?
  • Are non-discrimination policies present in the day-to-day life of the school?

Suggested changes to the application process may include one or more of the following:

  1. Eliminate gender questions entirely and enroll people not specific genders.
  2. Ensure that application gender questions offer a wide range of options for answers (transgender, gender non-binary, genderqueer, etc.) and instead of having gender check boxes (that put people in boxes), offer a blank space for a narrative response.
  3. Add an explanatory paragraph to the application itself about the school’s LGBTQ and gender identity non-discrimination policy.
  4. Offer links to the school’s non-discrimination policy on the online application.
  5. Ensure that all interviewers have completed gender identity training and are prepared to discuss how the school will support LGBTQ and non-binary students and what the climate is like for these students.
  6. If the school enrolls boarding students, what is the rationale for the policy on placing students in dorms according to gender, and what can transgender and gender non-binary boarders expect and why?
  7. Be honest about the school’s openness to and support for LGBTQ and non-binary students and the status of internal discussions about the direction of the school toward a spirit of inclusion.
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