The educational community that comprises a school is complex, consisting of students, teachers, support staff, administration, parents, district officials, the list goes on. Even in matters that are not exclusive to trans or LGBTQ+ issues, sometimes the biggest obstacles that educators encounter is not the students, but specific parents and/or administrators that have differing belief systems as to what is “best” for a student.
To be honest, it’s difficult to write about the “best practices” for working with parents or administration who are unsupportive to a transgender student as each situation is so specific and contextual. Yet again, there’s no "one size fits all" approach, and it would be irresponsible to say there was one. This lack of support of a trans student can stem from many different areas, whether they be religious, political, or ideological in nature, involve poor prior experiences with an LGBTQ+ person, a strict adherence to the “that’s the way it’s always been done” approach, etc. Sometimes it can be hard to know if parents or administration are supportive or not; other times the lack of support reveals itself pretty plainly.
For parents of the transgender student, the lack of support can show itself in minor ways, perhaps an overt reinforcement of their child’s legal name or using pronouns indicative of the student’s assigned sex at birth. Or maybe it presents in more serious manners, such as derogatory language towards the student, abuse, or complete rejection from the family unit.
Sadly, this is not uncommon for trans students to endure. “...One in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness in their lives. Family rejection and discrimination and violence have contributed to a large number of transgender and other LGBQ-identified youth who are homeless in the United States – an estimated 20-40% of the more than 1.6 million homeless youth.” (NCTE, 2020, para 2) This is why it can be so risky to out a transgender student to their parents or family without their consent—it can result, and has resulted, in transgender youth being forced out of their homes, disowned by their unsupportive families.
For administrators, lack of support can be shown via the inconsistent enforcement of school policies or in disciplinary situations. (Nichols, 2013) Consider the case of Jonathan Escobar, a 16-year-old male in Georgia who decided to wear feminine clothing as a way to express dissatisfaction with rigid gender expression. He was told by school officials, citing their dress code policy, that in order to return to school, he needed to dress more manly or consider homeschooling. (Farber, 2009). The effects of unsupportive administrators can be severe in circumstance, leading to these kinds of negative situations for trans students that can effectively block them from acquiring a safe and unbiased education.
So, what can be done to help? The list below provides different strategies or things to take into consideration to realistically make a positive impact for your student. Note that there are not big, brash actions like “attempt to get the administrator fired,” as those aren’t typically possible in most situations, and therefore aren’t helpful. Some of these can seem relatively small but can make a big difference to a trans student.
· Be an advocate for your student, even when nobody else is. Find out what your student wants primarily and try to find ways to honor it to the best of your ability.
· Do not out students to parents/administration/others without their consent. The only exception is if they are planning on hurting themselves or others, in which case it can become a legal requirement to get the student help.
· Be willing to respectfully stick up for your student with administration. Be ready to provide examples of how other districts or schools handled similar situations.
· Provide a safe classroom environment for your student no matter what, so at the very least they have somewhere to go.
· If a student’s parents are unsupportive, you can use the name/pronouns the student would like for you to use with the student, while using the legal name with their parents.
· Have a plan for what name trans students would like to use in concert programs.
Possibilities include: the name they go by, their legal name, a first initial with the full last name, an accidental “omission” of the name from the program, or not including student names in programs at all.
· Offer the student gender-neutral attire options for performances to help avoid conflicts with parents/administration over concert dress.
· If going on an overnight trip, try to have a rooming plan in place with your student before getting to the administrative level. This is typically going to be a case where administrators will need to know a student is transgender and be consulted as there can be legal issues that arise. Note that with some administrations and districts, there may be little to no wiggle room on rooming policies.
· Educate yourself on your school district policies as well as city, state, and federal policies laws to better understand the situation.
· Have resources available for administrators and parents as needed. They might be unsupportive, but open to learn. Not every individual is going to be open to learn—know when to stop trying to push the issue with that person, otherwise there could be negative blowback for you.
· Be respectful and kind as much as possible, and always relate that your main purpose is doing what is best for your student, so they are as comfortable as possible. Ideally, that’s everybody’s goal.
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