Ally 101: When “Transgender Students” Appears in Your Newspaper’s Headlines

1 Oct

High school league plans vote Thursday on guidelines for transgender athletes

Transgender student-athletes policy collects foes – and a backer

These headlines – fresh from Sport page coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press – link to discussions in Minnesota today as the Minnesota State High School League today wrapped a long consultation period with an educational forum about guidelines to ease inclusion of and create safe climates for transgender students participating in “girls” and “boys” high school sports teams. Tomorrow the MSHSL will vote to accept, or reject, as set of guidelines proposed for helping school districts develop transgender-supportive policies that “spell out medical documentation that students must provide to identify themselves as transgender, including evidence of hormone therapy, surgery and parental or guardian consent. The plan also has guidelines for how schools should accommodate privacy concerns in locker room areas,” according to Star Tribune reporting.

The headlines and forum also follow up the weekend publication of a political action organization’s inflammatory, fear-based full page advertisement excoriating the proposed guidelines, and the full endorsement of the proposed guidelines by Education Minnesota, the state-wide teachers’ union.

Alongside the news coverage and today’s Twitter stream – see #mshsl – I’ve had my own, “Wow, we do need to talk about all of this” moments, and I’ve talked with colleagues as well as graduate instructors about key principles and basic resources for instructors who wish to support transgender students in courses and advising, in navigating new social environments whether academic or athletic, in matters related to making meaning in cognitive and affective realms.

I’ve clustered my responding around three “What…” questions:

1.  What policies have been proposed and adopted within higher education, specifically by those places recognised as the Top 10 “Trans-Friendly Campuses”?

The Advocate reports these as five key trans-supportive policies shared across the highlighted campuses:

  • covering hormones and surgeries for transitioning students as part of student health insurance.
  • recognising trans identities on campus [data gathering] forms; and
  • providing a means for trans students who have not legally changed their names or had gender confirmation surgeries to use a preferred name and to change the gender on campus records and documents;
  • offering gender-inclusive bathrooms, locker rooms, and housing options;
  • adding “gender identity and/or expression” to nondiscrimination policies; 

 2.  What guidelines, policies, practices might we keep in mind in setting up classroom climates inclusive of our transgender students?

A simple first step for the first day of class:

In smaller classes: Welcome students to say their own preferred names in class rather than moving into the common first day default of teaching calling out the names from the official class list. As noted in #3 & #4 above, official class lists are not likely to reflect the preferred naming of a transgender student. An added bonus, students who go by a shortened or nicknamed version of their given name, get to say their preferred naming, and when students hear others say the names they perceive as difficult to pronounce, they do better in learning to say and remember those names.

In larger classes: Ask students to sign in with their preferred first names and with the last name that shows up in their university records – including class lists and ID cards.

In both contexts: Use these names in seating charts, name tags, listing of groups or teams that you provide students.

A great resource for the bigger picture, provided by ASU (fully quoted here, and cited below):

The Twelve Keys to Building an Inclusive Classroom Community: Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students

1.  Use inclusive language

  • Use precise terms like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ) rather than homosexual or gay as an umbrella term.
  • Use terms like partner instead of boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife.

2.  Never tolerate abusive language in your classroom or in the halls

  • Language like, “That’s so gay” or “You’re such a fag” is common in schools, and it actively creates an unsafe environment for LGBTQ students and LGBTQ Allies. We must respond to (and be sure not to ignore such language).
  • Don’t simply be punitive with hurtful language. Instead, explain why it is not welcome and is hurtful. This helps students understand why they shouldn’t use the language rather than just making them avoid using it around you.

3.  Never assume heterosexuality

  • Building relationships with students is wonderful! Ask about students’ lives, but don’t assume heterosexuality in your language. A question like, “Are you seeing anybody these days?” goes a lot further than, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”

4.  Maintain confidentiality within the confines of your professional responsibilities

  • There are certain things like abuse that we cannot keep confidential, but outside of that, make sure students feel safe by always keeping what they share confidential.
  • Create a space in which students can talk to you about their struggles, helping all students to understand that you are someone they can talk to during free time.
  • Be careful never to “out” an LGBTQ student, meaning that if a student is not open in their sexual orientation and they share that with you, be careful not to share that information with others. Sometimes being out can be more dangerous than being closeted.

5.  Keep an eye out for bullying and act to stop it

  • It’s tough to know the best way to respond to bullying. Sometimes it means interrupting bullying as it happens. Sometimes it means talking to the bullies or the bullied afterward.
  • In responding to bullying, be careful to not make the target out to be the weak one in the situation, as that can make bullying worse in the long run.

6.  Respect the needs and wishes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender students

  • Support them in their decisions and their needs, helping them to make safe choices that will help them be happy and fully realized as a young person.
  • Questions like, “Are you sure?” “Could this be a phase?” are not helpful.

7. Respect the needs and wishes of Transgender students

  • Respect the names students wish to be called and the pronouns they prefer. When unsure, ask the individual one on one with empathy and respect.
  • Respect the clothing choices students make, supporting them as they figure out how they want to perform their gender.
  • Be aware of the usage of a class roster system (people soft for example) for attendance purposes or visibly displayed to the class, the name listed on the roster may not be the student’s preferred name and could out the student to classmates. Transgender students often do not have the money to legally change their name.

8.  Encourage respectful disagreement on issues of sexual identity

  • Dialogue and discussion inside and outside the classroom are helpful and healthy so long as respectful. Don’t shut down conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity, but make sure to facilitate the conversation down inclusive roads and correct misconceptions.

9. Don’t ask people to speak for an entire group

  • Minority students often report either feeling invisible in class, or sticking out like a sore thumb as the token minority. This experience is heightened when they are addressed as spokespeople for their whole group, and can have implications on performance (Lord & Saenz, 1985).

10. Examine your curriculum

  • Are certain perspectives systematically not represented in your course materials (e.g., a course on family focusing only on traditional families, or a course on public policy ignoring race issues)? Neglecting some issues implies a value judgment (hooks 1994), which can alienate certain groups of students. Please refer to the “Suggestions to Incorporate LGBT Subject Matter Into Class Curriculum” document.

11.  Recognise that you’re not an expert. You will make mistakes and occasionally be insensitive

  • Humble yourself and apologise where necessary; learn from your mistakes, and always try to broaden your understanding of LGBTQ issues so you can best support all of your students.

12.  Acknowledge that building an inclusive community is better for everyone, and fight to make it a school-wide priority

  • Inclusive communities experience less bullying and violence.
  • Inclusive communities are likely to boast higher achievement and stronger school spirit.

3. What ally-oriented resources might be starting places as I learn more?

The Top 10 Trans-Friendly Colleges and Universities, by Genny Beemyn and Shane Windmeyer: http://www.campuspride.org/tools/top-10-trans/

Transgender 101: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/trans101

Tips for Allies of Transgender People: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

Trans 101: Primer and Vocabulary: http://www.ohio.edu/lgbt/resources/trans101.cfm

An Ally’s Guide to Terminology: http://www.glaad.org/publications/talkingabout/terminologyTransgender Terminology

 

 

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