Transgender Students Deserve Safe and Welcoming Schools

Empty classroomAt NWLC, we are thankful for the National Center for Transgender Equality and their 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. The survey better informs our work in serving transgender women and girls. On the Education team, we’re particularly concerned about transgender students, especially given the increased harassment in schools in the days since the election. It’s more important than ever to be armed with data about how transgender kids are faring in schools.
Here are three takeaways that stood out to us in the education section of the survey:

1. Schools are still defending arbitrary gendered dress codes.

 More than half (52%) of survey respondents who reported mistreatment in school also reported being prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity or expression in school.  We’ve also heard of schools prohibiting transgender students from attending their proms if they tried to dress according to their gender expression. But clothes don’t affect kids’ learning or harm other students in any way. Moreover, stringent dress codes often reinforce gender stereotypes and ultimately hurt all students. Schools should drop such arbitrary rules.

2. Schools aren’t protecting transgender students.

 Twenty percent of survey respondents felt they were disciplined more harshly because they are transgender. Such bias by educators, and more importantly the inability or unwillingness to check biases, is unprofessional and harmful to all students. School officials should be making a conscious effort to train school staff and faculty and to provide opportunities for reflection on bias and privilege. Schools should also annually conduct climate surveys to learn about what students need and follow up with good faith efforts to address those needs. Additionally, schools should aim to have adequate student representation of all identities on school improvement committees or advisory boards that report to school officials on discipline and climate to prevent such disparities.

3. Transgender students are being pushed out of school.

Seventeen percent of survey respondents reported leaving a K-12 school because of severe mistreatment related to their gender identity or expression. School is supposed to be a safe haven for every single child. When any family has to even consider removing their child from school for their physical safety or mental well-being or when a student withdraws because they feel they have no choice, the school has failed to make students feel accepted and safe. This is unacceptable.
If educators cannot commit to educating each and every student regardless of their identity, education is not the field for them.