If you have a cisgendered child in the public school system in Virginia, you may or may not be aware of the challenges faced by their transgender classmates. Beyond the already difficult burden of bullying from peers, transgender students face obstacles at every level of their school experience.
Among teenagers, transgender youth are more than three times as likely as their cisgendered peers to attempt suicide. However, multiple studies have shown that using a transgender student’s chosen name and pronouns reduced that youth’s chance of suicide by 40%. Consider the number of times a day any student hears their name called - in the hallway, during roll call, during class discussions, over the PA system if they’re being called to the office. Every one of those instances is an opportunity to support a trans student by using their chosen name and pronouns.
School records and information systems are another opportunity to affirm trans students’ identities. Distance learning during the pandemic has revealed gaps in information systems that have made it difficult for trans students to have their chosen name displayed on their Zoom classroom. Prior to the pandemic, parents picking up their trans kids from school have often been stuck having to use their child’s deadname (or birth name) to let administrative staff know who they’re requesting for dismissal. By adjusting record keeping and information systems, school districts can provide a more seamless experience for trans students in which their chosen name and pronouns are used consistently.
These scenarios also assume that the trans student has the support of their parents, which often isn’t the case. How then do teachers need to be mindful of the name they call the student in class versus the name and pronouns they use when they communicate with parents? Teachers and administrators will need support from community partners like the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center to implement these best practices.
School is therefore a complex environment for trans students, with so many opportunities to be either misgendered or affirmed. Under state legislation passed last year, school boards are required to develop and implement policies to best support trans students by the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. The Virginia Department of Education is releasing model policies to help school districts meet the minimum requirement. Ensuring that school boards follow through, however, is likely going to require grassroots efforts by parents, students, and community members within each school district.
YOU can help! Start by checking out the model policies published by the VDOE. Public comment is open through February 3, and GLSEN offers a template you can use to make your comments in support of these policies. In addition, if you are the parent of - or know of - a trans student in the public schools, you can encourage them to complete the anonymous student survey from Side by Side Richmond so their voices are heard in this process.
School doesn’t have to be so hard for trans students. If we work together as community members, we can make public schools places that support our trans students and give them the opportunity to be the best they can be.