Running a school or district with simultaneously very liberal and very conservative viewpoints on LGBTQ+ identities and inclusivity can seem like an impossible task. Administrators strive to create psychologically safe places for students but how can that be done when it seems like one group’s sense of safety compromises another’s?
The answer may be simpler than it seems: Find the common ground. Cut through the noise, figure out where there are areas of agreement and move forward from there.
Common ground regarding bathrooms
For every issue, the first step is to know the laws in your state. Your school district may be required to prohibit transgender students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Alternatively, other school districts may be required to allow transgender students to use that bathroom.
When finding common ground, conservatives and liberals can generally agree that (1) bathrooms should be places where students can relieve themselves without fear of intimidation, harassment, bullying or assault; (2) students have an expectation of privacy in the bathroom; and (3) students should not be made to feel uncomfortable in the bathroom.
Therefore, first, make sure your student codes of conduct are updated, clear and equally enforced. Have swift responses to allegations of inappropriate bathroom behavior, especially those related to improper sexual conduct in violation of Title IX.
Second, make sure your bathrooms (and locker rooms) are private. Have stalls and shower curtains, and install privacy strips. Third, have a single-stall bathroom open for students who are uncomfortable using a multi-stall bathroom.
Common ground regarding names
Recent research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that young people who are allowed to use their chosen name at school, home, work and with friends experienced 71% fewer severe depression symptoms, a 34% decrease in reported thoughts of suicide and a 65% decrease in suicidal attempts. As said by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox about transgender students, “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live.”
Transgender students are not the only students who have thoughts of suicide, however. This is another place to find common ground. Students who feel disrespected, misunderstood and bullied may experience severe depression, regardless of their gender.
Indeed, bullying on the basis of religious ideology often flies under the radar. If schools intend to be a psychologically safe space for all students, they should promote efforts to be that for all students. Deal with bullying and promote a culture of respect. Teach how to disagree respectfully and how to research.
Again, state-by-state, the law varies on what school districts are required to do in regard to using chosen names and pronouns, and it is important to work with your legal counsel to determine what your obligations are. Regardless of the law, though, school districts should continue to promote respect for all regardless of ideology, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Common ground regarding disability
Liberal and conservative groups alike generally support a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities. Recently, some parts of the country have recognized gender dysphoria (i.e., psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity) as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means school districts must make accommodations. If the gender dysphoria impedes a child’s learning, a Section 504 Accommodation Plan may be in order.
Students with gender dysphoria may appropriately be accommodated by a plan that allows them access to certain resources and services. If being barred from a certain restroom causes a transgender child such distress that they do not use the restroom at school and develop urinary tract complications, an appropriate accommodation may be allowing them to use that bathroom.
If being called by their given name causes a transgender child such psychological distress that they cannot focus on school, an appropriate accommodation may be requiring school staff to use their chosen name.
While this disability-related information cannot be shared without the parent’s consent, this is where the culture of respect comes in. “We are all on different journeys and this helps your classmate on theirs,” may be all a child needs to hear if the culture has been created. It’s important to create this culture before you need it.