How to create safe spaces for transgender students

Title IX regulations in 2024 emphasize the need for schools to address discrimination based on gender identity.
Collins Saint
Collins Saint
Collins Saint is an attorney at Brooks Pierce who advises and litigates on behalf of public and private educational institutions and school boards on an array of education law issues, including special education and disability issues, civil rights laws and tort claims. He may be reached at [email protected].

Creating a safe and welcoming environment for transgender students is not just a moral imperative but also a legal obligation. Recent updates to Title IX regulations in 2024 emphasize the need for schools to address discrimination based on gender identity.

Understanding the problem

Transgender students often face significant challenges in the school environment, including bullying, discrimination, and lack of access to appropriate facilities. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school. This pervasive lack of safety can lead to severe consequences, including higher rates of absenteeism, lower academic performance, and mental health issues.

The 2024 Title IX regulations specifically mandate that schools address harassment based on gender identity, making it more crucial than ever to take proactive steps.

But several states have declared their intention not to comply with the new Title IX regulations related to gender identity discrimination, including Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. These states argue that the new Title IX regulations conflict with state law and contradict the original purpose of Title IX. If you live in such a state, consult your general counsel on your legal obligations.

Practical solutions

1. Policy review: Start by reviewing your district’s current policies to ensure they are inclusive of transgender students and compliant with the new Title IX regulations. This includes anti-bullying policies and Title IX harassment procedures, as well as dress code and facility access policies.

2. Training and education: Provide regular training for staff on issues related to transgender inclusion. This training should cover the basics of gender identity, the specific challenges faced by transgender students and strategies for creating an inclusive classroom environment.

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The 2024 Title IX regulations also require all employees be trained on conduct that constitutes gender identity-based harassment. Consider bringing in experts from local LGBTQ+ organizations or hiring an attorney with knowledge of these issues.

3. Support systems: Establish support systems for transgender students. This could include access to on-site counseling, peer support groups, peer mentors and designated safe spaces where students can feel secure and supported.

4. Accessible facilities: Ensure all students have access to facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, that correspond to their gender identity. This is required in some states, such as those in the Fourth Circuit, as a result of recent litigation.

Also have gender-neutral, single-stall facilities for students who do not feel comfortable in a multi-stall facility for whatever reason, whether that is due to their gender identity or their religious convictions.

5. Inclusive curriculum: Where not prohibited, incorporate LGBTQ+ topics into curriculum to promote understanding and acceptance among all students. This can be integrated into subjects such as social studies, the sciences, English and health education.

LGBTQ+ history and innovations by LGBTQ+ individuals can be incorporated into curriculum instead of having a separate lesson that may make transgender students feel alienated.

6. Inclusive language: Use inclusive language and examples that reflect LGBTQ+ identities in classroom materials and discussions. Calling students “friends” instead of “boys and girls” and asking students what name and pronouns they use at the start of the year can go a long way in helping transgender students feel like they belong.

7. Engage with the community: Host informational sessions and create resources to educate the community about gender identity and the importance of inclusivity. Partner with local LGBTQ+ organizations to provide additional resources and support for students and staff, such as outside support groups and alternative proms.

8. Legal compliance: Regularly consult with legal counsel to ensure your school district’s policies and practices comply with the law. This is a rapidly changing landscape and vigilance is required.

Moving forward

Creating a supportive environment for transgender students is a continuous process that requires commitment and proactive effort. By taking these initial steps, you can ensure that your school district complies with legal requirements and fosters a culture of inclusivity and respect for all students.

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