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Gender Diversity For Schools

Supporting a gender diverse student at school is mostly about ensuring the student’s identity is treated as valid. Often this starts with a conversation around how the student wishes to identify, how they may wish to express their identity, what facilities they’re going to be comfortable using, and what they may expect from staff and students. Legally speaking, schools in the ACT are required to recognise X gendered students. As a result, schools must be able to accommodate the needs of gender diverse students.

There can be a lot of gender segregated activities at school. “Girls vs Boys” can be a quick and easy way to pick sporting teams or pair off students for an activity. It’s also common for health classes to be gender segregated, as well as some extra-curricular activities. Rather than make special accommodations for gender diverse students that may single them out, why not reconsider how these activities are generally approached? Chances are by making such spaces safer for gender diverse students, more equitable conditions are being made for all other students.

There is often not a clear transition pathway, or sometimes a pathway at all, or a set of needs and priorities for gender diverse students. There may be a desire to change names, pronouns, language, or other markers. It might mean that the student would like access to a gender neutral bathroom or be free to make a decision about what uniform they wish to wear. There may also be a desire for nothing to change, other than you knowing that they are gender diverse. The best thing to do is to start a conversation with them.

While studies haven’t focused on gender diverse students yet, it is worth noting that broader studies of the LGBTIQ+ community do show higher rates of mental illness, self harm, and suicidality that directly correlate with experiences of discrimination. The best way to combat this is to ensure that gender diverse students have an environment that supports them. This can mean targeting bullying when it occurs, just like with any student, and encouraging your school to be more open and accepting of gender diversity For many, the opportunity to join peer support groups can give them access to positive reinforcement and safe environments to express themselves.

Another common issue for gender diverse students at school is that of privacy. When a student identifies as gender diverse, it is important to let them come out to others in their own time.  This is trusted information, and they alone have the right to tell other people or consent to them being told, including other staff, if and/or when they want to. It is important to let them tell their parents in their own time, and ensure they are emotionally supported at school. If the school has access to a counsellor, it might be worth referring the student to them. Not all gender diverse students will have a supportive enough home environment to tell their family, or to be able to be themselves in the family home. Ensuring and respecting their privacy at school can provide them with a safe environment for processing their feelings and experiences.

Key Points

  • The needs of gender diverse students can be similar to those of transgender students, so guidelines and policies around transgender students should be mindful of gender diverse students
  • A gender diverse student who affirms their gender at school might have different goals or needs to transgender students. Ensuring an ongoing conversation with students will allow for all students to feel accommodated for. 
  • Ensuring school activities are gender neutral can be to the benefit of all students.
  • It is important to consider the privacy of the student, particularly if they might be facing hostility at home.
  • Mental health outcomes for LGBTIQ+ students can be improved by ensuring a discrimination free environment, as well as providing access to counselling and peer support.