Doing the Work to Support Transgender Students

This post is written by NCTE member sj Miller.

UPDATE: Watch this CBS news interview with sj Miller from February 23.

In May 2016, federal guidelines were put into place to protect transgender student rights. As of last night, these guidelines were revoked, leaving uncertainty about what trans students’ rights will be in schools.* Regardless of the actions of the new administration or any Supreme Court ruling, some schools have policies in place that will continue to support the rights of trans students. In fact, where state and local laws or protections protect trans students, federal protections are eroded. But protecting these rights is critical and there are things we can do as educators to take action immediately.

The model of support for transgender youth detailed below offers suggestions for doing the work.
A framework for supporting transgender students by sj Miller.

Community Work

In each of our different communities, whether locally, nationally, internationally, cyberspace, and/or across contexts, we can take up the work of acting on behalf of transgender students’ rights. This work can be done by different and cross-age levels, as well as by, with, and for different stakeholders:

  • Coalition Building: We can create different kinds of coalitions and for different purposes (e.g., local, state, and/or national policy advocacy; body safety; documentation; physical and mental health care; immigration/asylum rights) and work together in our communities, as well as uniting with different constituents across our states and the country.
  • Protest and Demonstrations: We can walk in the streets, gather in airports, speak out, speak up, be loud, be concise, be where we need to be, and stand in solidarity.
  • Sing and Chant: We can remind ourselves and one another of the important quotes and turns of phrase that inspire us.
  • Revisit the Visionaries: We can reread (or read for the first time) works of the great thinkers, activists, spiritual guides, artists, etc., who can help to guide each of us down these roads that we are co-creating.
District and School Work

In our schools and districts, we can work to teach, affirm, and recognize dynamic, expansive transgender and gender creative youth (Miller, 2016) in our program areas, departments, and across schools with different constituents and for different stakeholders. The work can also be taken up at the state level. The following means are provided as possibilities for taking up this activism:

  • Curriculum and Pedagogical Strategies: Include a continuum of possibilities that makes (a)gender ordinary in the classroom. This can include but not be limited to genres of books, plays, short stories, poetry, writing assignments, histories, political victories, trailblazers, photos, pictures, artists, musicians, athletes, varieties of professionals, and media icons. Students (all stakeholders) should have ample options for chosen names, (a)pronouns, and (a)gender identifications.
  • Connect to Community Organizations: Address transgender, (a)gender, and gender violence (through, for instance, rape crisis centers, LGBT or gender identity nonprofits, mental health and health care practitioners) to develop a deeper understanding of the issues facing transgender and (a)gender youth.
  • Families: Work alongside families to learn from and with their experiences and to develop support groups.
  • District Curriculum Specialists: Work alongside classroom teachers to educate one another about the classroom and schooling experiences of transgender and (a)gender youth.
  • Change and Update District and School Policies: Revise codes of conduct, enumerate bullying policies, create safe bathrooms and locker rooms, consider issues about participation in sports and physical education classes—all of these are typical spaces for extreme harassment, so reflect on how to create a school environment that can help to foster external safety.
Academia

In university spaces, activism can be embedded in our program areas, departments, colleges, and across campus in different organizations and with different constituents and stakeholders. Universities can do this work across their state, national, and international affiliates and college campuses by creating focus groups and coalitions. Potential groups for embedding this work include:

  • Preservice Teacher Education Cohorts: Introduce (a)gender identity topics in early childhood education and throughout elementary, middle, and secondary coursework and across disciplinary programs. Program leaders should decide in which courses such uptake would best fit.
  • Teacher Educators: Address gaps in teacher education, working closely to deepen and develop the efficacy of pedagogies through strategies that affirm and recognize the intersectional realities facing transgender and (a)gender youth; work closely with school districts to develop professional learning models that can support curriculum specialists and teachers in their ongoing awareness of how to meet the needs of transgender and (a)gender youth; and create opportunities for participatory action research.
  • Caucuses: Teacher educators, districts, schools, community organizations, and families should caucus with legislatures to change state policy about transgender rights to be more inclusive of health care needs, identification changes, and bullying policies.
Individual Work

Individual actions can include reading the links below, sending them to listservs, making handouts and fliers, writing blogs and op-eds, forming study groups, and speaking up and out at different community, state, and national events, to name a few. Each of the following links is annotated to help explain the important work at hand.

Transgender National Center for Equality: A comprehensive website that provides an overview of current concerns under the Trump administration, tips for strategizing, an overview of current protections, links to key federal and state documents, guidelines for Title IX coordinators, key court cases, and a list of all organizations and key figures who stand with transgender students.

Fact Sheet on U.S. Department of Education Policy Letter on Transgender Students: A document providing an overview of current facts, rights, and exemptions from the law.

Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students: A letter to give out to your peers that explains changes and rights for transgender students under Title IX; this model letter was implemented during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Know Your Rights | Schools: A document outlining the rights of transgender students in schools, how to file a complaint, and who to go to for support.

Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students: The examples in this document show different approaches schools across the country have taken across a range of issues.

Federal Guidance on Bullying and Harassment: Guidance on how to deal with bullying, including gender-based and anti-transgender bullying.

Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students: These detailed policies are from NCTE and GLSEN and include policies that school districts can adopt to support trans students.

Schools in Transition: This is a practical six-chapter guide to help school officials address issues affecting trans students. It covers gender basics; why this work matters; key considerations (e.g., planning, timing, age and grade level, privacy and disclosure, and public and private transitions); key elements and practical tips (e.g., student records and information systems, names and pronouns, dress code, sex-separated facilities, activities and programs, discrimination, harassment and bullying); complex issues; legal landscape; and creating an affirming school for all; it also has a rich resource guide filled with appendixes and practical applications of the chapters:

FAQ on Transgender Students and School Bathrooms: A document that addresses common questions school officials may have about restroom access.

Changes can happen, but it will take a collective to do this work and from within multiple contexts and through myriad means. I hope you will consider passing this blog along to colleagues, listservs, friends, and family, speaking out and up, and if you are teaching, ask your peers and students to write letters in support of transgender youth. As James Baldwin once wrote, “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated,” and we have so, so much work to do and to stay committed to, now and for years, if not decades, to come.

Miller, s. (Ed.). (2016). Teaching, affirming, and recognizing trans and gender creative youth: A queer literacy framework. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

*Special Note: NCTE has joined other education leaders in a joint statement on the administration’s decision to rescind guidance on federal protections for transgender students.

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About sj Miller

sj Miller, PhD, an award-winning teacher/writer/activist/scholar, is deputy director of Educational Equity Supports and Services and research faculty at NYU. sj has a combined 22 years of teaching secondary English language arts, undergraduate/graduate courses in literacy, and urban/English teacher education. sj is the Executive Committee member for the National Council of Teachers of English LGBT Issues in Academic Studies Advisory Committee, American Education Research Association (AERA) Division G Affirmative Action Officer, AERA's Queer SIG Co-Chair, and consultant for the College Board.

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