Challenges For Transgender and Transsexual Youth
Transgender youth are coming out at school more often than in the past. There are many amazing resources for transgender people. In some schools there is more support than there has been previously. However, even where there is support, there are many issues that make it difficult to come out as transgender, including:
- coming out to parents and explaining being transgender to siblings;
- lack of education or knowledge on being transgender;
- finding one’s identity with little guidance from the usual supports such as parents, teachers, friends, and other role-models;
- finding a style of dress that suits one’s gender and sense of self;
- misinformation and over-sexualization of information found on the internet and social media sites;
- finding safe people and spaces to explore one’s gender identity; and
- access to medical care for daily medical needs and also to assist with transition.
Particular areas that schools must address regarding transgender youth are:
- harassment and bullying by peers or others at school or online,
- the use of washrooms/changerooms during school and at gym period,
- finding a way for transgender youth to participate in fieldtrips when there is room sharing based on gender or other gendered activities,
- defining how a transgender person gets involved in sports,
- accommodating gendered dress codes,
- using the chosen name and pronoun for students, and
- protecting a transgender student’s privacy.
In order to address some of the issues of coming out, some youth will change schools. While this may be the option a youth and his/her family choose, the youth may also transition within the school environment. It is important that school officials discuss what the youth would feel most comfortable doing, and not assume the youth will leave the school. Some parents are supportive of these youth and can be involved in helping to find out what the youth needs and figuring out ideas to solve particular issues.
Youth are exposed to more web content than ever before. This can be positive in that it gives LGBT youth access to much needed information on being LGBT. However, with the onset of an abundance of social media sites there is a danger that LGBT youth will be exposed to misinformation by other youth who are just learning about themselves, or by youth who are not making healthy choices. Youth may be lead to believe that dressing like a sexual stereotype is normal for someone coming out; for instance a MtF transgender girl dressing in mini skirts and half-tops to express her feminine identity. Usually it would be the parents of that youth who would set the standards of dress, however, even when the parents know and support a youth coming out, they may feel unprepared to guide them in healthy choices in the LGBT community. Getting support from local LGBT organizations may help and asking the youth many questions about coming out and decision she or he is making can open the lines of communication. Schools should include discussions about technology, the internet and social media to try to address how all students are interacting with the web.
Youthsafe.net keeps an up-to-date list of local services for LGBT youth in centers across Alberta. Some resources for transgender individuals are found on the following websites:
- Alberta Trans – www.albertatrans.org
- Alberta Tran Peer Support Group, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/AlbertaTransPeerSupportNetwork/info
- Trans Equality Society of Alberta - http://www.tesaonline.org
- Calgary Sexual Health Centre - http://www.calgarysexualhealth.ca/sexual-health-info/gender-identity/
- Supporting transgender and transsexual students in K-12 schools: A guide for educators – Available to order online: Canadian Teachers’ Federation http://www.ctf-fce.ca
Putting in place accommodations for transgender youth who come out
Schools provide a service to youth and therefore owe a duty to accommodate youth to the point of undue hardship as per section 4 of the Alberta Human Rights Act:
4 No person shall
(a) deny to any person or class of persons any goods, services, accommodation or facilities that are customarily available to the public, or
(b) discriminate against any person or class of persons with respect to any goods, services, accommodation or facilities that are customarily available to the public,
because of the race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons or of any other person or class of persons.
The duty to accommodate is explained in the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s interpretive bulletin that is found online. The term “accommodation” is something we often hear used when talking about accommodating a student who has a disability. The AHRC Interpretive Bulletin says:
Accommodation is a way to balance the diverse needs of individuals and groups with the needs of organizations and businesses in our society. It may cause a degree of inconvenience, disruption and expense to the employer, union or service provider. However, accommodation to the point of undue hardship is required by law.
There are times when it is also necessary for transgender individuals to make sure that they have equal ability to participate in services such as school. When accommodating a transgender student, teachers and staff will want to:
- consider what the student has requested as an accommodation;
- discuss the options with the student as to how to accommodate him/her;
- consult an expert within the Board of Education or at another Board who can assist with the accommodation and transition;
- consult a legal expert if the school is considering denying a request for accommodation;
- educate teachers, staff and administrators on transgender issues;
- consider the privacy rights of the transgender student. Consider who must know about his/her history and why?