School can be a minefield for transgender youth. Teachers may not know which gendered pronouns to use. There’s bullying. On Monday, New York released new guidelines to make school easier for these students. They’re a response to a report last month from the New York Civil Liberties Union that found widespread problems in the state.
One big question for schools is how to know if a student is transgender and needs accommodations. Should they require a note from home? Maybe a doctor’s affirmation? No to both of those, according to the guidelines. A simple statement from the student is enough.
If John starts to identify as female and wants to be known as Jane, administrators, teachers and the school nurse all have a role. The guidelines suggest the school principal send around a memo alerting staff to the change – with Jane’s permission, of course. Teachers should use “she” and “her” if that’s what Jane wants. And the school should change all records – including medical ones – to reflect the new gender.
This applies even if a student’s parents aren’t on board. Melanie LeMay of Binghamton’s Identity Youth Center says that’s crucial.
“It’s almost more important for a school to be accepting because there needs to be some aspect of that young person’s life where they’re accepted and treated with dignity and respect,” she says.
What about those “Boys” and “Girls” bathrooms? The guidelines say Jane can use the girls’ room. And if there’s a locker room without private spaces, the school should install them.
“That’s something that can go a long way and can be something visible to say, ‘We are an accepting place,’” LeMay says.
It’s important to note that the guidelines don’t change state law. In 2010 New York was one of the first states to ban discrimination based on gender identity. Many schools seem to need a refresher, though, on what exactly that category means.