A couple of years ago, I published a post encouraging international schools to adopt a school-wide policy for transgender students. Taipei American School has done just that, leading the way in supporting gender diverse students. I interviewed Adam Nelson, a member of the committee that implemented the policy. Adam Nelson is the Interim Deputy Head of School at Taipei American School in Taiwan and holds a J.D. from the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Emily: How was the process to develop and implement a policy for transgender students initiated at Taipei American School?
Adam: The process started when the Head of School put together a committee to come up with such a policy, both in response to the Obama Administration’s policy guidance that Title IX protects trans* students and to help better protect the trans* students we had on campus.
Emily: How was faculty involved? Did they receive training on their role in enforcing the policy?
Adam: We currently have only a small number of openly trans* students, and their counselors have worked directly with those students’ teachers both to make sure they understood their obligations under the policy and to offer support with meeting their students’ needs.
One of our school psychologists recently presented an overview of the policy to the entire Upper School faculty, and I’m sure there have been other smaller or division-specific efforts, but our first attempt at formal faculty-wide training will come in the fall.
Emily: How was the policy presented to the greater TAS community? Did you put it out in a newsletter, for example, or just add it to the website when it was ready?
Adam: It has mostly been the latter. The policy was first adopted around the time of our most recent WASC accreditation visit, and was mentioned at least briefly in our self-study report, but otherwise it was really just published in the student handbooks, which parents are required to read each year, and in our administrator, faculty, and staff manuals.
Emily: What challenges arose during the process, and how would you recommend handling them if another school encounters the same?
Adam: The process has really been relatively painless so far. Even the drafting was fairly straightforward, since we merely adapted the model policy that had been published by GLSEN!
The biggest challenges so far have really mostly been technical. Like all schools, we have a lot of systems that report gender information, and it’s not always clear why. Fortunately, our student information system (SIS) supports having separate gender and gender assigned at birth fields, which made things easier for those systems that play well with our SIS. Otherwise, we’ve tried to limit references to student gender as much as possible. We now feel like we’ve done a pretty good job giving those employees with a bona fide need to know access to a student’s gender assigned at birth, but otherwise making it so that any other user doesn’t see gender at all unless they need to, and then only giving those individuals access to information based on each student’s self-identification.
Emily: Has the policy been successful in supporting students since its implementation?
Adam: I think it has been successful. Again, I’m only aware of a very small number of openly trans* students, but I know those students have been appreciative of the school’s support and validation of their identities.
Emily: Thank you, Adam, for taking the time to share your experience with implementing a transgender inclusive policy. Taipei American School is leading the way!
Please contact me to discuss crafting and implementing a transgender and gender non-binary inclusion policy to fit your school. I specialize in international school policy development and faculty training for gender and sexual orientation diversity.