June 14, 2016

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Guest Blog Post: Creating Safe and Affirming Spaces for Transgender Students

 This guest blog post comes from Nathan Smith, Director of Public Policy at GLSEN.


We have recently witnessed an uptick in conversation and attention on how to best serve transgender students in schools. This past legislative cycle, many states considered legislation specifically addressing the issue, and North Carolina passed a highly controversial law requiring that transgender students use school facilities that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. These legislative proposals arose in a national landscape in which 13 states and the District of Columbia had, over the years, passed nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender students on the state level.

Adding to the conversation, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) recently released joint guidance and an accompanying emerging practices document stating that transgender students are protected under Title IX (a position currently being challenged in a lawsuit involving 14 states) and highlighting some practices on serving transgender students currently employed by districts across the country, in some cases for many years.

At GLSEN, we want every student, in every school, to be valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. We believe that all students deserve a safe and affirming school environment where they can learn and grow. We conduct extensive research (including our biennial National School Climate Survey), author age-appropriate resources, partner with dozens of national education organizations on policy advocacy and empower students to affect change. GLSEN has developed resources for school leaders who are looking to learn more about the experience of transgender students and seeking evidence-based tools to improve it. Specifically, we have developed:

A Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students, which was created in conjunction with the National Center for Transgender Equality and comports to ED and DOJ’s recent Title IX guidance on transgender students. Notably, in addition to model policy language, the document includes extensive commentary to help school leaders better understand the scope of the issue and a comprehensive list of resources, including sample model policies published by school systems, state and federal guidance, and research and reports;

GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit, available in both English and Spanish. The Safe Space Kit is designed to help educators assess their school’s climate and policies and practices, as well as to provide tools and strategies to create change, such as stickers and posters for display in the classroom;

GLSEN’s Ready, Set, Respect! Elementary Toolkit, developed in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). This kit provides tools to help elementary educators teach about the importance of respect for all. It focuses on name-calling, bullying and bias, and diversity;

An extensive Chapter network, currently comprised of 40 Chapters across the country and made up of students, educators, parents and community members who volunteer to bring GLSEN’s programs, support and expertise to their specific communities.

As school leaders and educators work to create safe and affirming spaces for all students, GLSEN stands ready to help, both through the resources listed above, direct support and professional development from GLSEN staff and Chapters.