Trans Lifeline Library:
Allies and Supporters
Allies and Supporters
Allies & Supporters
As an educator, it’s likely that you have a transgender student currently, have had one in the past, or will have one in the future. Studies have repeatedly shown that trans youth who have a supportive adult at home or at school have better mental health and a lower rate of suicide. By being a supportive ally to your transgender and non-binary students, you have the ability to change their lives. Small acts that educators are in a unique position to perform can be lifesaving–using your student’s chosen name, sharing an inclusive book recommendation, offering your classroom as a safe place to talk, helping your student advocate for their academic rights, and refusing to allow bullying or transphobic remarks in your class are all deeply impactful–especially for students who may not have that support at home.
We understand that some educators are currently located in states that are actively persecuting educators who wear a pride pin, display a safe space sticker, or have books in their room that are reflective and inclusive of the different identities and families that students may be a part of/come into contact with. If you’re concerned about supporting your students without being fired or losing your license, we’d advise you to reach out to your local ACLU and/or teacher’s union for further guidance.
It’s good to stay open to any potential changes that your students may present you with during the school year–leaving the option open for a student to request a different name or pronouns whenever it feels right to them is a great way to show acceptance.
Try to avoid unnecessarily gendering your students–for example, if you need your students to line up or split into groups for an activity, avoid asking them to line up in a girls or boy’s line. Alternatives include “If you have an odd number birthday go the left, and even number birthdays go the right”. You can have fun with this too! You could use things like “reptile lover vs. furry pets”, “oldest/only siblings vs middle/younger siblings”, etc–not only does this remove distress for students, it can also be a sneaky way to help your students find common interests that they can use to build community with their peers–this can benefit all students!
Some students may not feel comfortable sharing their preferred name and pronouns with the whole class, particularly at the beginning of the school year before they’ve had time to feel out how their peers may react. Instead of putting students on the spot at the beginning of the year, consider collecting the information privately. This could be done on paper or via an electronic survey, like a Google Form. Make sure to ask not only for their chosen name and pronouns, but also who they are comfortable using that name/pronouns in front of. Some students may not be ready to use those identifiers with the whole class, and some may not be out at home. It’s important to find out how they would like to be addressed in communication with caregivers.
If you assign homework, let students use their chosen name on it when they turn it in whenever possible. It’s easier for you to make a note on your roster/gradebook than for them to have to experience dysphoria and misidentify themselves (on top of doing homework!). For some students, having to turn in work that requires them to use their birth name is so uncomfortable that they may even elect to not turn it in, even if it was completed.
Your student’s human rights should never be a debate topic, especially not for a grade. Be cautious about student persuasive essays/debates around things like transgender restroom access, access to gender affirming care, and transgender youth in sports. It can be extremely difficult as a young person to hear your peers debate whether or not you should be allowed to use the same bathrooms as them at school or play on the same sports teams, especially when someone is arguing against those things, and other people are agreeing with them. Limiting those topics to people who have a direct personal investment or attachment to them can be a way of protecting your students from dysphoria, bullying, as well as feelings of alienation, isolation, and invisibility. That is not to say that students should not have discussions about these things, only that it’s your responsibility to protect your most vulnerable students from harm during school hours.
If your state allows you to share inclusive information in your classes, consider adding to your curriculum! Is there a moment in LGBTQ history that aligns with another time that you’re talking about? Is there a trans scientist/musician/historical figure/athlete that you could mention by name and discuss their positive contributions? Small moments of inclusive learning can feel so validating to students who are seeking a role model/relevant knowledge that can make them feel more seen and empowered.
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