Creating a Trans-Welcoming Environment

This blog was also kindly published by Pran Patel at theteacherist.

As society becomes increasingly inclusive and accepting, it is becoming apparent that there are more and more openly trans people out there. Almost everybody in the UK will be involved with a school at some point in their lives – many multiple times – first as a student, then as a parents, and maybe also as a member of staff or a governor or volunteer.

Nonethless, it’s still not easy being trans. These figures come from Stonewall’s 2017 School Report:

  • 64% of trans pupils have been bullied at school because of their identity;
  • 77% of LGBT pupils have never been taught about or discussed ‘gender identity’ or what ‘transgender’ means;
  • only 3% of LGBT pupils know of an openly trans member of staff;
  • 44% of trans pupils say staff at their school are not confident about what it means to be trans;
  • 33% of pupils are not known by their chosen name at school;
  • 58% are not allowed to use the toilets they’re comfortable in.

And that’s just among pupils! The British Survey of Social Attitudes 2017 found that 21% of people think suitably qualified trans people probably or definitely should not be primary school teachers.

However, the Public Sector Equality Duty (Section 149 Equality Act 2010) (PSED) subsection 3c states that public authorities need to “encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons is disproportionately low”. Being trans falls under the somewhat problematically named protected characteristic “gender reassignment” and trans people are definitely underrepresented in education, so we should be doing what we can to actively encourage trans people into the teaching profession.

Given that we are situated within a society that is at best indifferent and at worst openly hostile to trans people, what can schools do to show that they are actively welcoming to trans people, be that as pupils, parents or staff?

NB: It is impossible to be trans-welcoming without being LGBT+-welcoming. Many of these ideas will address both aspects, but there are also things that can be done to specifically be welcoming to cis LGB+ people. I will not be discussing those here. Also, many of these actions could also be taken by other organisations, institutions and businesses.

Contents

  1. Online/On-Paper Presence
    1. Explicit Commitment to Inclusion and the Celebration of Diversity
    2. Explicit References in Policies
    3. Named D&I Governor
    4. School LGBT+ Inclusion Award/Stonewall Champion School
    5. Curriculum
    6. Gender Neutral Uniform
  2. Physical Environment
    1. Gender Neutral Toilets/Changing Rooms
    2. Resources
    3. Displays
  3. School Culture
    1. Curriculum and Lessons
    2. Language Use
    3. Staff Training
    4. Ethos of Acceptance and Respect
    5. Pupil Involvement
    6. Parental Involvement

Online/On-Paper Presence

It is important to note that these are not just things to do in writing – in fact they will nearly all require some serious work on the part of the school – but rather they are things that are likely to be priminent on the website or on paper documentation (e.g. prospectus) and which will make a school’s public face more welcoming to trans people.

1. explicit commitment to inclusion and the celebration of diversity

This is the kind of thing that should be in your school’s motto, vision statement or similar. It should be right there in the first sentence after “Welcome to Our School”. The first line in the “Message from the Head”. This is our school and we are committed to inclusion – or something to that effect. Even better would be to include – here or slightly later on – explicit clarification that this includes LGBT+ people, identities and issues. An open acknowledgement of the inclusion of trans people would be top tier (too many people seem to forget what the T in LGBT stands for for the initialism on its own to be quite enough).

2. explicit references in policies

Include explicit references to trans people in your diversity and inclusion policy/ies, your sex education policy, your PSHE policy. Including explicit references to the PSED will also show you have made yourselves aware of your responsibilities to inclusion and equality.

3. Have a named D&I Governor

I’ll be honest, I don’t know as much as I should about school governance, but having a named governor for diversity and inclusion shows a commitment to looking carefully and critically at how your school runs and doing the work. Also, a named D&I governor who really cares will ensure you really are looking carefully and critically at how your school runs and doing the work.

4. School LGBT+ Inclusion Award/Stonewall Champion school

The Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie School of Education houses the Centre for LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Education, who offer a quality mark for schools who are working to include LGBT+ people in their community. Alternatively, Stonewall offers their School and College Champions programmes.

These are good not only because, once awareded, they show your commitment to LGBT+ inclusion, but also because they will give you the support and resources to help you make your setting more inclusive and welcoming.

5. curriculum

This section refers to the curriculum in the broadest sense – the things in your curriculum statements and policies. Think about where you can include topics on trans inclusion – mostly, on this level – this will apply to PSHE, but could you have a history topic on LGB and trans rights?

6. Gender neutral uniform

I was debating which section to put this in, but this is something that is most apparent when it is set out on the website or in the prospectus, plus I will usually check how a school lists their uniform on their website if I am considering working with them, so here it is.

Having a gender neutral uniform does not mean only offering trousers and shorts for everyone. It means offering trousers and shorts and skirts and dresses for everyone. Cardigans and sweatshirts for everyone. If you want to have rules about minimum hair length or what hair needs to be tied up that’s up to you (though you should bear in mind other discussions about this regarding racial discrimination), but these shouldn’t be “boys’ hair must be a minimum of a number 1 and girls’ long hair must be tied back”. If any hair must be a minimum of a number 1, all hair must be, and any long hair tied back. Boys’ hair definitely shouldn’t be limited to collar length, for example, if girls’ isn’t.

Physical Environment

These are the things that will show up in photos of your school and will be visible to anyone who visits or walks around your school. This is the stuff that is important both for those who will potentially become involved with the school in the future and those who are members of the school community.

1. Gender Neutral Toilets/Changing Rooms

This is the big battleground when it comes to trans rights. Let me be clear: you do not have to get rid of all gendered toilets/changing rooms in your school. There are numerous cultural, social, religious and personal reasons why young people might want to use single-gender spaces. However, there should be gender neutral facilities easily accessible for anyone in the school (one gender-neutral toilet in a distant corner is not sufficient).

If your school infrastructure allows (or if you’re lucky enough to be building/renovating your school building), self-contained individual toilet/changing cubicles can make this a non-issue.

2. Resources

This links in with the curriculum elements of this post and refers to any visual or written resources you are using. Are you only using images of gender conforming people? What pronouns are used in your written resources?

A key area of focus is the school library, or wherever children’s reading books are kept in school. These books should portray a broad range of experiences generally – think about the diversity of writers and characters in your school reading materials – including trans experiences. See my blog post here for my thoughts on a number of fiction reads including trans characters, including rough reading ages and maturity levels. There are also non-fiction books such as I Am Jazz and Free to Be You and Me (disclaimer: I haven’t read these myself yet). I will try to expand these lists over time.

3. Displays

Dedicate displays to showing your commitment to inclusion. These can include factsheets and information, images of and information about role models, pride flags and other related imagery, and student work about/including trans people – such as that created in lessons described in ‘Curriculum and Lessons’ below. Make the presence of trans people normal in your school.

School Culture

This is the kind of stuff that’s probably going to make the biggest and deepest difference long-term, but it’s less apparent to outsiders or visitors. This is the stuff that will make sure trans people continue to feel welcome once they’re already part of your community.

1. Curriculum and Lessons

Here I’m talking more about including references to trans people in your ‘everyday’ curriculum. Try to include a ‘golden thread’ of trans inclusion through your curriculum. I’m not just talking about assemblies and PSHE lessons (though do those too), but every subject, if you can. Just normalise it – even simple things like including people who use they/them pronouns in word problems in maths, to get pupils used to reading and using those pronouns in that way.

Include trans people in your lessons. If you’re looking at people involved with a certain tropic or field, try to include at least one trans person. Granted, there aren’t many high profile trans people outside of acitivism and media personalities, but after a bit of digging, here are a few to get you started:

  • The Wackowski sisters (film, media)
  • James Miranda Barry (medicine)
  • Chris Mosier (sport)
  • Charlie Martin (motorsport)
  • Alan L Hart (medicine)
  • Roberta Cowell (motorsport)
  • Fox Fisher (film, media)
  • Juno Dawson (literature)
  • Billy Tipton (music)
  • Laura Jane Grace (music)
  • Meredith Russo (literature)

Write biographies of these people and include them in displays. Having role models is vitally important to young trans people. It is important for them to see that they can succeed in a variety of fields. It is important for them to see, simply, that trans people can grow up to be successful adults.

2. Language

This is simple and importnat, but may require a change of lifelong habits. If you hear someone use the wrong pronouns for someone else, politely correct them, regardless of who else is or isn’t around to hear it. Normalise asking for another person’s pronouns when you meet them, along with their name. Offer your pronouns when you introduce yourself, along with your name. It is far easier and safer for you to do this as a cis ally than it is for trans people to do themselves.

Also, avoid gendered generalisations and stereotypes, but also avoid assuming the gender of any unknown or hypothetical person. Get used to using ‘they’ when you’re referring to anyone – real, fictional or hypothetical – whose pronouns you aren’t 100% sure of.

In the past, the media have often reported policies such as these as an attempt to ‘ban’ all gendered language, such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘girl’, ‘boy’, ‘woman’ or ‘man’. I am not suggesting that at all. Call girls ‘girls’, call men ‘men’, use ‘he’ and ‘she’ to talk about people who want to be referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’. But only use those words in those senses. If somone told you they were going furniture shopping, you wouldn’t just assume they meant chairs, because there are so many other types of furniture. You wouldn’t call all furniture ‘chair’ because ‘it’s easier’. That doesn’t mean you’ve banned the word chair, you’re just only using it to refer to the thing it describes. Which is just common sense, really.

Another time to be aware of your language is in sex education lessons. Try not to refer to certain body types or features as ‘male’ or ‘female’. Of course you want the children in your class to understand their bodies – but that includes the trans children true. The words ‘most’ and ‘usually’ are your friends here: ‘most women have ….’; ‘this feature is usually found in men’. You do not have to deny any correlation between bodies and gender – the percentage of bodies that do conform to the usual expectations is in the very high 90s – but it also leaves room to make it clear that there is some variability.

3. Staff Training

Ensure all staff, including your admin staff, your kitchen staff, your governors, are trained on what it means to be trans, experiences trans people go through, how trans people are and should be treated and what the law says with regards to trans people. Provide safe spaces where they can unlearn things they may have picked up through their lives, where they can practice and familiarise themselves with using new and unfamiliar language.

4. Ethos of Acceptance and Respect

This is more an aim and a result of everything else rather than an action as such, but it is important that your school has an ethos of acceptance and respect that extends to every single person, which is explicitly taught, modelled and maintained.

5. Pupil Involvement

Involve pupils in building this inclusive environment by having pupil inclusion champions, who perhaps have a responsibility for leading assemblies, promoting inclusion on the playground and acting as inclusion role models to the rest of the school. Also, give opportunities for practices and policies to be informed by pupil voice.

6. Parental Involvement

Provide opportunities for dialogue with parents, where they can be informed of the reasons and rationale behind choices and where they can have opportunities to raise questions and express concerns. Of course, it may be necessary to stick to your guns on unpopular policies in the name of acting in line with the Equality Act and the PSED, but it may still be good to get parental input in certain choices where possible to keep them on board.

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