Perhaps the most memorable experiences of being in an ensemble, especially at the secondary level, are taking overnight trips with the ensemble. These can be for brief jaunts to another city to perform, or a destination that is further away and filled with performances and fun experiences for all members of the ensemble to enjoy. Choir, band, and orchestra trips are important for many programs, they can be an effective recruitment tool, as well as provide needed publicity for one’s ensemble and advocacy for the musical arts to the general public.
While overnight trips are usually filled with fun for students, for the director(s) of the ensembles, they come with a host of safety concerns and the stress of being responsible for many students in a foreign city, state, or even country. Part of these concerns extend into the lodging of said students, especially transgender students. With cisgender students, rooming is typically segregated by sex, boys room with boys, girls room with girls. However, it isn’t always that simple with trans students.
The director has to take multiple factors into consideration, including the gender identity of the trans student, who they would be most comfortable rooming with, as well as administrative/district policies, the comfort level of other students, and potential parental pushback. For the trans student, these concerns alone may cause enough anxiety for them to elect not to go on the trip, thereby missing an experience that they shouldn’t have to.
There is no one “correct” idea that will work across the board, every situation is different and contextual. Ideally, a trans student would be able to room with other students based on their gender identity rather than their assigned sex at birth, however realistically that isn’t always going to be an option, depending on administrative/district policies and the other students. This is going to be one of those instances where the decision will more than likely have to be decided by your administration, as it can run into legislative territory for your school district.
Before speaking with your administration, it is a good idea to speak with your trans student honestly about the situation. Find out what their preference is. For some trans students, they won’t have any issue rooming based on assigned sex at birth and the conversation stops there, nothing more needs to be done, administration doesn’t need to get involved. For other trans students, that will simply not be an option.
Some trans students may be anxious at the prospect of being alone in a room with others who are not accepting of their identity, fearing bullying, harassment, or assault. These are valid concerns. Let your student know that you will try and find the best solution so they can still go on the trip and have a safe and comfortable rooming experience. Let them know that in order to do this, you may need to out them to the principal or your administrative supervisor.
Set up a meeting with your administration to discuss this. This is not a discussion to have in a public setting. Your administrator is more than likely going to have to consult with upper administration for guidance on the district’s policy and potentially the school district’s legal team. Let them know what the student’s wishes are and advocate for your student. It can be helpful if you already have a room of cisgender students that would be willing to room with the trans student. For example, if a transgender student identifies as female, and there is a room of other girls that are willing to room with her, that could be a potential solution. It should be noted that sometimes students are not going to have a problem with it, but some parents might. Outing the trans student to those other parents could violate FERPA, not to mention the student’s privacy, so that can be a tricky situation to navigate. Your administrator can speak with all parties involved, as well as the trans student’s parents, and make the call.
There are other options that do not need to involve an administrator, other students, or the parents of other students. One option could be allowing the transgender student to have a room of their own. This could be a slightly more costly approach for the program (as the difference in cost should be shouldered by the program instead of by the family) but in the end the benefit outweighs anything else. However, some students might complain about not getting their own room as well. In these instances, it is wise to simply shut down the complaint and move on. Another option could be to ask to have the trans student’s parent function as a chaperone, and the trans student can room with their parent. This way, you get an extra chaperone and figure out a rooming solution so the trans student can partake in a shared ensemble experience.
Whatever the end result is, check in with your trans student along the way and be open and honest about the process. Let the student know that you are going to advocate for them and ensure they enjoy the trip.
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