More inclusive schools: Debunking 4 myths about transgender kids

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].

For administrators to promote inclusive and supportive schools, it is crucial to confront prevalent misconceptions surrounding transgender identities.

Myth 1: Transgender identities are a phase or attention-seeking behavior.

Fact: The reality is that gender identity is deeply personal and authentic. As stated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, gender identity is a “deeply felt, inherent sense” of a person’s gender. Children who “consistently, persistently, and insistently express a gender that, on a binary, we would think of as opposite to their assigned sex” are transgender.

“[B]eing transgender is natural and not a choice.” While many children do explore their identities in childhood and adolescence, dismissing transgender children’s identities as a phase or attention-seeking behavior is harmful and can lead to dire psychological distress.

Myth 2: All transgender children undergo medical interventions.

Fact: For some children, their journey to gender affirmation includes hormone treatment, including treatments that many cisgender students undergo, or surgeries. These are private medical decisions made by children’s families and doctors. However, not all transgender individuals pursue medical interventions. The process is diverse and individualized, and undergoing medical interventions does not make someone “more transgender.”

Myth 3: Discussing transgender topics in schools is inappropriate.

Fact: Education plays a pivotal role in fostering understanding and acceptance. Avoiding discussions about transgender identities can perpetuate stigmas and misunderstandings. Age-appropriate education that promotes inclusivity is important for a more empathetic and accepting school culture. Some states have enacted laws that may limit what may be discussed in schools as part of the curriculum, and administrators should consult their attorneys to ensure legal risks are appropriately analyzed.

Myth 4: Being transgender is a psychiatric illness.

Fact: Per the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, “[b]eing transgender is also not a psychiatric condition, and implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities.” The American Psychiatric Association has removed transgender identities from the list of mental disorders. It is critical to understand and respect transgender identities as valid and not pathologize students’ experiences.

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Gender dysphoria is a psychiatric condition. According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care, gender dysphoria is a “discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth.” Many medical interventions and many social changes, such as dress and bathroom use, are considered treatments for gender dysphoria.

The Fourth Circuit has recently held that gender dysphoria may constitute a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a result, students may be entitled to disability accommodations for gender dysphoria, even though being transgender is not a psychiatric illness.

Actions for creating inclusive schools

  1. Education and training: Comprehensive training for staff members about transgender identities, what transgender people experience and ways to support transgender students increases understanding and assists in developing an inclusive curriculum and classroom environment. If allowable under state law, educating students about transgender identities in age-appropriate ways can also contribute to a more welcoming school environment.
  2. Policies and support systems: Clear policies protecting transgender students from discrimination and ensuring that their rights are respected are indispensable and often legally required. Establishing support systems like gender-neutral bathrooms and extracurricular activities fosters an inclusive environment.
  3. Respect for privacy: Upholding transgender students’ privacy is crucial. Some federal laws, such as the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act and ADA, require certain information to be kept confidential. Other state laws require certain information to be shared. Administrators should consult legal counsel to ensure they are aware of the requirements for specific situations.
  4. Listening and support: On the other hand, creating a safe space where students feel comfortable discussing their identities if they so choose is fundamental. Offering support through counselors or support groups significantly impacts transgender students’ well-being. Again, some states may limit the ability of schools to do this, but creating supportive spaces is paramount to transgender students’ wellbeing.

By debunking myths and fostering an inclusive environment, administrators can create a school where all students, including transgender children, feel safe, respected and empowered to flourish. Embracing diversity enriches our school communities and prepares students to be compassionate, understanding individuals.

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