Transgender School Policy: What’s Yours?

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Unless you are a novice educator, you have taught transgender students. You may not have realized it at the time, but I assure you that you have. Increasingly, educators are becoming aware that they have transgender kids in their classrooms, which can sometimes catch us off-guard. Most of us do not have formal training, or even experience, meeting the needs of transgender children. Yet, when a gender nonconforming child is placed in our care, everyone from senior leadership to classroom teachers to instructional assistants will appreciate having clear guidance on how to support them.

What Does Transgender Mean?

Transgender describes someone whose gender identity does not match the one they were assigned at birth (usually based on external sex characteristics). Transgender people may be ‘out’, or not; their gender identity (how they feel inside) may match their gender expression (how they present themselves on the outside), or not. There is a lot of diversity in gender nonconformity, and some countries or regions may use different terminology for similar concepts (i.e. Hijra for our friends in South Asia, for example).

Why Do We Need a Transgender Policy?

If you haven’t yet been asked how your school supports transgender and gender nonconforming children, you will face this question at some point. International schools around the world are finding that families with transgender children are applying to attend, or that a current student may be transitioning. This happens in religious schools. It happens in conservative countries. It happens in elementary and primary divisions. The interests of the school and, most importantly, of the child, will be best served if a solid policy is in place. Schools that take the lead here will find that they are on the forefront of child-centred practice in the international community.

A Model Policy for Schools

GLSEN (pronounced ‘glisten’) is a non-profit organization whose mission is, “To create safe and affirming schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression”. They are leaders in the field, and backed by research, so you can feel confident referring to them for sound advice. GLSEN’s transgender model district policy  offers school decision-makers sample language and reliable advice on topics as varied as student gender transitions, parent/guardian involvement, access to gender-segregated activities and facilities, and dealing with media requests. You could literally copy/paste their text into your own handbooks; it is written with schools’ needs in mind.

Transgender Policy in International Schools

International schools generally exercise a degree of independence from both local and foreign regulations, while also operating within at least the partial confines of both. Naturally, these responsibilities need to be taken into consideration before implementing any new policy. That being said, GLSEN’s suggested policy document uses straightforward language that would suit many international contexts. And, while I encourage you to consider adopting the model policy in its entirety, it is neatly organized and concisely written so that it would be possible to lift out the sections that are most relevant to your school as a starting point, until the full text could be approved.

Not So Sure?

Many people, even well-intentioned school leaders, harbor bias against gender nonconforming people. While we, as professional educators, are committed to serving all of our students, we may still find ourselves neglecting to protect transgender children in the same way we look after others. Decision-makers may feel nervous about endorsing policies that so much as acknowledge the presence of transgender children at their school. This takes some courage and forward thinking. We still have a long way to go in ensuring equal educational opportunities for transgender and gender nonconforming students around the world. A proactive policy is a step forward in making our international schools safe and inclusive places of learning.

Can I help? If you are interested in updating your transgender policy, but have questions about how to do so in a manner that is consistent with your school’s mission, stakeholders’ values, or local context, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be delighted to serve as a resource.

Selected Ramblings: Change in the World

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

Click here for our Vietnam and Cambodia route maps.

The world has changed a lot since the year 2000. Touring the world in this day and age has been remarkably smooth in terms of freedom of movement, crossing borders with electronic visas and booking excursions and flights with just a few clicks (see previous post).

The more I compare my experiences from 18 years ago to now, the more I realise that everything is different. Access to cash is one thing that makes this lifestyle a whole lot easier. No more travellers cheques and wire transfers needed if you have a debit or credit card these days. Communicating with home and personal entertainment and photography has been made a whole lot easier and lighter –  no longer requiring half a backpack for music.

The weather is different. Now I am no expert on climate change but what I do know is that many places can no longer rely on distinct seasons and suffer from extremes. Crops fail, regions burn, wells dry up as rising tides begin to envelope communities. The land has changed too. Nation sized palm oil and soya plantations have caused the loss of habitat and species. Where is all this heading? I think that it is a demand-led problem for which there is a demand-led solution.

As we cycled across Vietnam and Cambodia I was constantly shocked by the images of branding. Especially of disposable goods and their packaging. Desires fulfilled by consumption and waste. Repeat. Where and when did the belief that consumption makes life better and makes us happier take hold in rural Mekong communities? Parts of which are now full of packaging and burning piles of inferior products, replaced by new and ‘better’ ones? Perhaps this behaviour builds ones status, but how and why?

I am sure that the profit incentives of producers in the free market drives awareness of products, and through advertising a desire. However, even in socialist states, symptoms of personal desires expressed through purchases are proudly displayed. Is hedonism human nature? Is it just a mammalian thing to show off?

Partly because of this consumerism, the world looks different. According to the World Trade Organisation, trade of all goods as services increased by around 40% in the first decade of this millennium (WTO, 2012).  The recession put a short hold on that but forecasts still put this decades growth at a similar figure. This means that since I first started travelling on my bike, the world’s output has nearly doubled. I can see it too. Increased trade, improved infrastructure and new technology have been the drivers of Globalisation. I think that these few generations worth of time will be coined as the ‘Age of Trade’ or the time when the worlds markets became a single entity. We live in interesting times which will never be forgotten.

It seems that our insatiable appetite for the consumption of manufactured goods and services is leading us to a tipping point. It is estimated that even now, the  goods we demand, the methods used to supply them and the way in which we choose to demand them, without consideration of the impact they have, means we are consuming more than our planet can currently produce. Some sources calculate that we will need to double output to meet demand by 2050 (UN, 2015). Others claim that this is an exaggeration, suggesting that with our slowing population growth and new processes this disequilibrium could be corrected by 2050 (BioScience). Other sources use eye-catching comparisons such as – “If everybody currently lived like an American then we would need 4.1 Earths. A French person 2.5 (De Chant, 2012).

One thing is for sure – Our current habits have to change. We find ourselves choking and exhausting our world. We must find new ways of production, but vitally, we as consumers must begin to think about the long-game. To demand that businesses then start listening to us by changing our purchasing behaviour. But I fear that without the support of uncorrupted government and military, the temptation of making a quick buck will overpower the needs of our planet.

Well there, I’ve said it, and this was supposed to be a bicycle touring post. I think my point is that there has been so much change in the last 20 years, that I think that in another 20 years, the world may be unrecognisable. I wonder whether travelling will be even easier, or less enjoyable? If the whole world will be more accessible or whether we are destroying adventure and paradise by the scars we are creating on our landscapes.

I say go and explore that last frontiers, feel the buzz of discovery and the spine-tingles by sheer delight at the sites that the world has waiting. Before it’s too late. Earlier I said that this age will be known for trade and Globalisation, I also think that it will be a time in history where the true spirit of travel and adventure was at it’s strongest. If you have any desire to marvel at the wonders of the world, go out and be part of this special time.

Click here for our Vietnam and Cambodia route maps.

Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.