Making HRCE Schools Safer for transgender and gender diverse children

Updated: Oct 10, 2018

An inclusive new policy to support transgender and gender diverse students is being rolled out this month in schools across Nova Scotia.

And here's why we're excited about it...

Photo: Lyndsay Doyle Photography
Photo: Lyndsay Doyle Photography

What's New:

This new policy enables families with elementary level children who identify as transgender or gender diverse (GNC) and also adolescents in Jr. High to update their name and gender identity within the School Information System (PowerSchool) with OR without legally supporting documents.

Student engagement and success is directly impacted by safe and inclusive environments. When students feel affirmed and secure, their ability to learn is enhanced. This is true of all students, especially those who belong to marginalized communities.
Students’ preferred names are individual choices and are often deeply connected to students’ identities and sense of belonging. Preferred names may include a shortened version of a legal name, the use of a middle name, or a completely different name that reflects who they are.

A lot of folks think they understand Gender. But often they don't.

Gender isn't binary. A peak at the Genderbread Person can help illustrate the spectrum.

Why new policy is critical for supporting trans and GNC youth and adolescents?

The IWK Trans Health Team is currently receiving between 75 and 85 new family referrals every year. This is significant.

And it's growing.

"Youth who identify as TGD are becoming more visible because gender-diverse expression is increasingly admissible in the media, on social media, and in schools and communities," states the American Academy of Paediatrics in it's Sept. 2018 policy statement.

As one of these 85 families who referred to the IWK Trans Health Team, we've been urging (more like pleading) for this policy update for more than a year.

  • It's about Respect and Affirmation.

  • It's about Inclusion.

  • And it's about all students right to privacy and a safe education.

As a family, we recognized early on, many trans youth are stealth in school. And for many older trans and GNC kids, their gender identity is personal and often private beyond their school community. For these children, having your gender identity not recognized in the School Information System can be harmful and risky.

'Many youth who identify as TGD also have to navigate legal obstacles when it comes to legally changing their name and/or gender marker.'

Name Change Obstacles

  • For parents with young transgender children who are following the Affirmative Care Model; loving unconditionally and following their child's lead; having to make official name changes to birth certs can be daunting and add unnecessary pressure to a family who is supporting their child but not quite ready to tackle significant legal documents.

  • Some children (like ours), may have been born outside of Canada in country that is not supportive of transgender and LGBTQ2+ people. Changing legal documents is simply not an option for many families.

  • At the Jr. High and High School levels there are students who unfortunately do no have supportive families. Trying to update a birth certificate can prove impossible for these students.

The ability for school administrators to now update your child's gender marker (and it really takes less than 15 seconds in the system), protects them from being 'outed' within the classroom or on school documents like their report card or transcripts; which can put them at risk of exclusion, bullying and physical harm. Affirming a child's identity shows them they count and they are respected and their lives matter.

Which of course, they do!

FACT: Trans youth do not feel safe in school.

There is much work needed to ensure GDC are accepted by their peers, teachers and school administrators.

Challenges exist on nearly every facet of school life for trans children;

'...from lack of understanding to outright rejection, isolation, discrimination, and victimization.' AAP policy statement.
  • In the US Transgender Survey of nearly 28 000 respondents, it was found that among those who were out as or perceived to be TGD between kindergarten and eighth grade, 54% were verbally harassed, 24% were physically assaulted, and 13% were sexually assaulted; 17% left school because of maltreatment.

  • In 2015, GLSEN found that 43% of children who identified as LGBTQ reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression, but only 6% reported that their school had official policies to support youth who identified as TGD, and only 11% reported that their school’s anti-bullying policies had specific protections for gender expression.

Allowing children to update their gender marker and name promotes inclusion, safety and a respect for privacy:

Anyway, how many of us require a piece of paper to tell us who we are?

The American Academy of Paediatrics states gender is generally locked down for children by the age of 4-years-old. Children know who they are - but learning how to express this can sometimes take a little time. Because society traditionally told children gender is binary and it's not OK to identify differently. 'Coming out' is often a very scary process for anyone.

It's proven affirmative care and recognition are all essential in ensuring acceptance for fostering a healthy and happy childhood experience. The family can only do so much in supporting their young GDC.

The school needs to play a BIG role here in fostering acceptance and inclusion:

"School environments play a significant role in the social and emotional development of children. Every child has a right to feel safe and respected at school, but for youth who identify as TGD, this can be challenging. Nearly every aspect of school life may present safety concerns and require negotiations regarding their gender expression, including name/pronoun use, use of bathrooms and locker rooms, sports teams, dances and activities, overnight activities, and even peer groups.

AAP Policy Statement, Sept. 2018

Supporting transgender children and teens, along with GDC in school is critical on all levels; from administrative system updates such as this new HRCE policy, but also through the classroom lesson plans and storytelling.

Teachers have a powerful role to play in following through with including transgender and GDC children within the narrative.

Every child deserves to be 'seen'; to be included and to be accepted.

When our schools support our children, communities will follow.

With hope, we can become a more inclusive society supporting all children and youth within the school system and beyond.

Full Story here.

Inclusion Matters.  Photo: Lyndsay Doyle Photography
Inclusion Matters. Photo: Lyndsay Doyle Photography