How to Make School Affirming for All Students

Appendix E from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago’s Model Policy and Administrative Procedure guide

  1. If a student talks to you about their gender identity, listen in a respectful and nonjudgmental way. Do not brush them off, react with skepticism or disapproval, or pressure them into any particular category. Thank the student for trusting you and for sharing part of the student’s identity with you. You may be the first person that this student has ever told about their gender identity. Support them in developing their own understanding of their gender and direct them to resources for transgender, gender expansive, and questioning youth. Do not “out” a young person or disclose their gender identity to another without permission.

  2. Questions you may ask: How can I support you? What do you need from me? What name/ pronoun would you like for me to use? Who else have you shared this with? Do you want other staff members to know about this or would you prefer that this remain between us? What can we do to make sure that you are comfortable in school? Would you like for me to use your affirmed name/ pronoun outside of this office? Is it safe for me to use your affirmed name/ pronoun when talking to your parents?

  3. Avoid perpetuating gender stereotypes. Many of us enforce gender norms without even realizing it. However, these stereotypes hurt everyone, especially transgender, gender expansive, and cisgender students. Think carefully about the messages in everything you say, do, teach, or communicate about gender. Are you complimenting girls more often on their appearance but boys more often on their athleticism? Do you ever imply there is something wrong with men who behave in stereotypically feminine ways? Do you discipline girls more harshly than you would otherwise if they seem “masculine” or “bossy” to you? Does your language ever equate gender with genitals or otherwise imply that the gender identities of transgender people are not “real?” Remember, there is no such thing as “girl things” or “boy things.” Clothes are clothes, hair is hair, toys are toys, activities are activities etc.

  4. Intervene and take action when students use gender-specific terminology to make fun of each other. When students make fun of each other with terms like “sissy, ” “pussy, ” “faggot, ” “dyke, ” “homo, ” “freak, ” “it, ” “he ? she, ” “tranny, ” “bitch, ” or “gay” and faculty fail to intervene, these words are perceived as acceptable. The use of such language further alienates transgender, gender expansive, and gender nonconforming students in schools and perpetuates discriminatory stereotypes about gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

  5. Create gender-neutral and mixed-gender spaces for group work. Be mindful about the ways in which single-gender teams or groups (e.g., girls-only groups and boys-only groups) can alienate transgender and gender-expansive students. Be proactive in creating spaces for transgender, gender-expansive, and gender-nonconforming students within these groups and create additional spaces for transgender and gender expansive students.

  6. Listen to criticism from transgender, gender-expansive, and questioning students. Take such criticism seriously without becoming defensive; such feedback is an important opportunity to learn and grow.