Freedom from discrimination based on sex is a constitutionally recognized human right. However, when a person whose gender identity or behavior does not conform to that which is typically associated with the sex to which they were born, respecting this right can become complicated, especially at school. Such issues as bathroom assignment, gym assignment, dress code, and other issues are very complicated, and very new. This makes it difficult to definitively come to conclusions on what is necessarily right or wrong, fair or unfair, and to whom. In a school setting in particular, where minors are involved, the rights of the transgender individual must be balanced against the rights of the other students. It is important to consider not just the physical safety of all involved parties, but also their mental and emotional safety.
First Considering the Applicable Laws
There are currently no old laws to protect the rights of transgender individuals, although in a number of court cases, their individual rights to self-expression have been upheld. That being said, new laws are continually being written or introduces, and laws or no laws, this issue is not going to go away, and it needs to be dealt with in the best interest of both the transgender student and his/her classmates. Freedom of expression laws can be very widely interpreted, however, and will most likely not be applicable in every situation.
Dress Codes for Transgender Students
It is reasonable that transgender students be allowed to follow the dress code for the sex which they identify with, not the sex with which they were assigned at birth (Seelman, 2014). It is very important, in such cases, for school administrators to be sure that the transgender student adheres to the same dress code as that of all other students of their chosen sex; there can be no special consideration in altering the dress code that they choose to follow. Once a student either comes out as being transgender or starts living as such, he/she must conform to the same rules as the other students of the sex which they identify with.
Bathrooms for the Transgendered
As a general rule, most counselors recommend that transgender students of any age have access to the restroom that corresponds to the gender that they identity with, especially if it aligns with the gender in which they present themselves. If a student desires privacy or is not comfortable in a public restroom, it is advised that a single stall bathroom should be made available, if at all possible. If a faculty stall needs to be made available, that should be seen as the solution. (Seelman, 2014). It is important that the use of a single stall facility be the student’s idea, and that he is not coerced by parents, other students, or school officials (Seelman, 2014).
Many lawsuits have been brought against schools for allowing transgender students (especially male to female) to use the female restroom. There is a fear amongst parents that a biological male using the female restroom poses a threat to the other girls using it at the time. It is important to realize that transgender individuals are no more likely to commit a sex offense than is the average person, and this should be communicated to parents.
Supporting Gwen and her Parents
The most important consideration in the emotional well-being of Gwen and her family is that they are aware that the school administrators are on their side, and will do everything that they can to make this transition as easy as possible for all involved. Keeping in touch through phone calls, in-person meetings, and emails to check for any issues which might come up, and maintaining an open-door policy for all involved (including other students having difficulty with the situation) is also important. Keeping everything out in the open, and not letting it become a deep, dark secret, can help to lessen the emotional impact on everyone involved (Kranzow, Hinkle, & Foote, 2015). By treating the situation as somehow disturbing and something which needs to remain secret, administrators, parents, and students alike are only making a difficult situation worse.
Specific Curriculum to Deal with Education about the Transgendered
In the best interest of everyone, including the transgender student, curriculum must be put into place which deals directly with the issue of transgendered individuals (Kranzow, Hinkle, & Foote, 2015). Some parents and students might not be aware of the problems faced by this group of people; the issues they face, the barriers they must overcome, and the discrimination due to ignorance that they come across on a daily basis. Without knowledge of what the transgendered face, it is impossible for the other people involved to have any type of empathy, which is necessary for communication and understanding to develop.
Health class or Sexual Education class would seem to be the best places to integrate new classes dealing with sexual orientation and congruence into the curriculum. The teachers are already aware of the subject matter, or if not, should be sent to a class, and the students are already expecting to learn about sex. Outside of the classroom, it is important that administration makes it clear that no bullying of the transgender student will be tolerated, and that this student should be treated the same as every other student in the school.
Having a transgender student in a school can be difficult for everyone involved. This is a relatively newly recognized issue, and as such, there is not as much information as one would hope. However, by following common sense, the few laws on the books, and simple human decency, hopefully a school can make all of its students comfortable; not just the transgender individual, but the rest of the student body as well.
- Kranzow, J., Hinkle, S. E., & Foote, S. M. (2015). Fostering success for students in transition. Journal of College & University Student Living Journal 42(1): 124-127.
- Seelman, K. L. (Sep 2014). Recommendations of transgender students, staff, and faculty in the USA for improving college campuses. Gender & Education 26(6): 618-635.