All schools should be places where all our children feel welcomed and safe. When students are included rather than excluded, welcomed and affirmed rather than marginalized, bullied, harassed, or made to feel invisible because of their gender identity or gender expression or any other aspect of who they are, they tend to flourish.
- From the 2017 document Supporting Transgender and Gender Diverse Students in Manitoba Schools published by Manitoba Education and Training.
Today more transgender and gender diverse youth are sharing their identities with their families, friends, and schools. St. James-Assiniboia School Division recently developed and implemented guidelines on transgender and gender diverse youth in schools that support equity and inclusion. Enshrined in both provincial human rights legislature and the Public Schools Act, all schools including teachers, administrators, and support staff have both a legal and ethical duty to provide safe environments free from bullying and to uphold human diversity policy. For transgender and gender diverse students, this includes respecting chosen names and pronouns, providing access to washroom and change room facilities aligned with their gender identity, and ensuring dress codes support the full expression of a student's gender.
Supportive and affirming school and learning environments see more transgender and gender diverse youth take on leadership roles, initiate school-based programming, attain higher levels of academic achievement, and develop meaningful relationships with peers. School divisions and schools are responding to the growing evidence that in order for students to thrive, a whole-school affirming approach is essential.
Transgender, or trans, is a term describing a wide range of individuals whose gender identity or gender expressions differ than what is typically associated with their biological sex. The term "gender diverse" describes those who do not follow strict expectations of gender identity or expression.
Researchers and historians have captured a variety of gender identities. For example, North American Indigenous communities may use the term Two-Spirit to reflect gender diversity. With the prevalence of trans and gender diverse individuals throughout different cultures and histories, the actual number of trans and gender diverse youth is difficult to determine. Depending on a number of factors, some may share their identities while others may not.
A 2016 study conducted by the University of British Columbia entitled Being Safe, Being Me in the Prairie Provinces: Results of the Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey in Saskatchewan and Manitoba indicates that transgender students in the prairies experience high rates of unwanted sexual comments, jokes or gestures towards them, nearly 2 in 5 have been subject to sexual assault, three-quarters have been treated unfairly due to their gender identity, 50% had attempted suicide in the last year, and 60% engaged in self-harm behaviour.
Divisional policies and guidelines will provide schools with much needed tools on how to better support trans and gender diverse youth while promoting the dignity of all students. The foundation of safety and inclusion fosters students to be their authentic selves and to fully participate in their learning environments. This in turn will allow each of them to reach their full potential as adults.
Submitted by Dr. Reece Malone, CEO and Lead Trainer for Diversity Essentials www.diversityessentials.com